Is 61st Street Based on a True Story? Is Moses Johnson a Real Person?

Image Credit: Chuck Hodes/AMC

Set in Chicago’s South Side, AMC’s crime drama series ’61st Street’ follows young Moses Johnson, a college-bound Black athlete who gets wrapped up in the city’s corrupt criminal justice system. Caught at the wrong place at the wrong time, Moses finds himself blamed for the death of a policeman. What ensues is a harrowing search for justice amidst corrupt state players willing to go to any lengths to prove their narrative right. The show feels gritty, and its heavy narrative feels akin to many a news story. We decided to take a closer look at ’61st Street’ and see if it might be based on actual events.

Is 61st Street Based on a True Story?

No, ’61st Street’ is not based on a true story. Created by Peter Moffat, the show is written by Sarah Beckett, Tolu Awosika, Allison Davis, and Olumide Odebunmi. The storyline of the series is based on fictional characters and situations. However, the plot of ’61st Street’ is one of the few fictional aspects of the show, as much of its inspiration lies in the very real experiences of its cast and crew.


Image Credit: George Burns/AMC

The idea that would eventually lead to the show reportedly came to Moffat on a visit to Chicago many years ago. Heading out for a run, he was warned by the hotel receptionist not to turn right (towards the South Side) when he reached the lake. This real-life incident is alluded to in the opening episode of the series. Attorney Franklin Roberts (Courtney B. Vance) asks a judge about to pass sentence on a young Black father for stealing food out of desperation, whether he (the judge) has actually ever turned right at the lake.

As it happens, Moffat did turn right when he got to the lake and found the setting and inspiration for what would become AMC’s ’61st Street.’ Thus the show is actually named after a real street (also called Woodlawn Street) and focuses on the Black experience in that particular part of town, especially with regard to the city’s law enforcement and criminal justice system.

The show’s writers paid particular attention to staying true to the nuances of the South Side of Chicago. Jamie Kalven, the founder of the Invisible Institute – a journalism non-profit headquartered on 61st Street – is a consultant on the show. In fact, the Invisible Institute actually hosted the writers’ room for the first few weeks of production. Kalven, who has covered stories of locals gunned down by members of the Chicago Police Department as a journalist, also explained how he could take more creative liberties in the making of the legal drama since he was not constrained by facts.

However, as stated earlier, the fictional narrative is deeply steeped in real experiences, as are many aspects of the show. Apart from being shot exclusively in Chicago’s South Side, where the storyline is set, the production team includes the likes of executive producer J. David Shanks, who is a South Side native and a former Chicago Police officer.

In addition, the show’s writers received input from local organizations such as the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter, Sunshine Gospel Ministries, among several others. This makes the AMC series incredibly authentic, with Moffat claiming that the narrative honors the community it is set in despite being fictional. In a broader sense, because of the personal experiences that the cast and crew have imbibed into it, the show aims to convey to its audience the experiences of Black people in America in general. Thus, despite being fictional, ’61st Street’ offers a powerful narrative that draws heavily from real-life communities and their experiences.

Read More: Where Is 61st Street Filmed?