- Dick Gregory’s Legacy To World Will Always Tells It Like It Is
“In America with all of its evils and faults, you can still reach through the forest and see the sun. But we don’t know yet whether that sun is rising or setting for our country.” – Dick Gregory
Dick Gregory was an African American comedian and civil rights activist whose social satire changed the way white Americans perceived African American comedians since he first performed in public.
The pioneering powerhouse of comedy, satire and political and social activism has died of heart failure at age 84.
“It is with enormous sadness that the Gregory family confirms that their father, comedic legend and civil rights activist Mr Dick Gregory departed the earth tonight in Washington, D.C.,” he son Christian Gregory reported in a statement through is father’s representative. “The family appreciates the outpouring of support and love and respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”
Gregory was multifaceted and who used all the talents God bestowed upon him for the betterment of mankind.
In his last interview with African-American News and Issues in April 2017, Gregory shared his wit and wisdom, but also lamented about a race of people (Blacks) he still saw as drifting without real leadership, a real self determination and still unable to call a place home.
“Black folk are not thinking for themselves,” he said. “We are not making decisions…we won’t do anything unless the White man tells us too.”
He added that Black folk have only themselves to blame for not taking charge of their destiny and must look as ourselves before pointing fingers at anyone else for our problems.
Gregory dedicated his entire life to poking, nudging, warning and painting a verbal pictures of ourselves combining both wisdom & intelligence in hopes that we would unite, work together as a race of people to improve our condition and positions in life.
Gregory Growing Up
Gregory was raised in a single parent home by a mother who clean houses for Wealthy Whites, but despite that, he said his mother was very influential in his life and encouraged them to go through life with a positive spirit focused on laughing and not crying.
From an early age, Gregory demonstrated a strong sense of social justice.
While a student at Sumner High School in St. Louis he led a March protesting Segregated schools. Later, inspired by the work of leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Drafted in 1954 while attending Southern Illinois University at Carbondale on a track scholarship, Gregory briefly returned to the university after his discharge in 1956, but left without a degree because he felt that the university “didn’t want me to study, they wanted me to run.”
In the hopes of performing comedy professionally, he moved to Chicago, where he became part of a new generation of black comedians that included Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby, and Godfrey Cambridge. These comedians broke with the minstrel tradition, which presented stereotypical black characters. Gregory, whose style was detached, ironic, and satirical, came to be called the “Black Mort Sahl” after the popular white social satirist. Friends of Gregory have always referred to Mort Sahl as the “White Dick Gregory.” Gregory drew on current events, especially the racial issues, for much of his material.
His career started when he became the first Black stand up comedian to break color barriers in the 1960s during a time when making light of segregation and race relations in his stand ups was new to American stages.
During those times, Gregory took the opportunity to talk about his and other experiences of being Black and living in America and opened the gate to more constructive dialog on civil rights and other social justice issues.
Born for Activism
Gregory took part in the Civil Rights Movement and used his celebrity status to draw attention to such issues as segregation and disfranchisement. At the invitation of Medgar Evers, he spoke at voter registration rallies launching his civil rights activism.
When local Mississippi governments stopped distributing Federal food surpluses to poor blacks in areas where SNCC was encouraging voter registration, Gregory chartered a plane to bring in several tons of food.
He participated in SNCC’s voter registration drives and in sit-ins to protest segregation, most notably at a restaurant franchise in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Only later did Gregory disclose that he held stock in the chain.
He also spent five days in a Birmingham Alabama jail after joining demonstrators at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He was also know for 40-day fasts to protest the Vietnam War.
UnApologetic and OutSpoken Author
In 1963, Gregory’s autobiography, Nigger, was published prior to The assassination of President Kennedy, and became the number one best-selling book in America.
Over the decades it has sold in excess of seven million copies. His choice for the title was explained in the forward, where Dick Gregory wrote a note to his mother. “Whenever you hear the word ‘Nigger’,” he said, “you’ll know their advertising my book.”
Through the 1960s, Gregory spent more time on social issues and less time on performing.
He participated in marches and parades to support a range of causes, including opposition to the Vietnam War, world hunger, and drug abuse. In addition, Gregory fasted in protest more than 60 times, once in Iran, where he fasted and prayed in an effort to urge the Ayatollah Khomeini to release American embassy staff who had been taken hostage. The Iranian refusal to release the hostages did not decrease the depth of Gregory’s commitment; he weighed only 97 lbs when he left Iran.
Gregory demonstrated his commitment to confronting the entrenched political powers by opposing Richard J. Daley in Chicago’s 1966 mayoral election. He ran for president in 1968 as a write-in candidate for the Freedom and Peace Party, a splinter group of the Peace and Freedom Party and received 1.5 million votes. Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey lost the election to Republican Richard Nixon by 510,000 votes, and many believe Humphrey would have won had Gregory not run. After the assassinations of King, President John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy, Gregory became increasingly convinced of the existence of political conspiracies.
Critically Acclaimed Writer/Wiseman
Gregory wrote other books such as Code Name Zorro: The Murder of Martin Luther King Jr. (1971) with Mark Lane, world famous author, attorney and documentary filmmaker, whose findings published in the best-selling 1966 book Rush To JudgmentGregory credited with reversing the nation’s opinion on who assassinated the president and the facts which contradicted the official government version contained in the Warren Report. Lane’s book contained answers and facts, which Gregory has espoused in Numerous lectures from then until now. Lane and Gregory have been best friends, co-authors and have lectured together for over 40 years and both live in Washington D.C.
Gregory and Lane’s book on the assassination of Dr. King was recently released under another title, Murder In Memphis, as a trade paperback.
Gregory’s activism continued into the 1990s. In response to published allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had supplied cocaine to predominantly African American areas in Los Angeles, thus spurring the crack epidemic, Gregory protested at CIA headquarters and was arrested.
In 1992 he began a program called Campaign for Human Dignity to fight crime in St. Louis neighborhoods.
In 1973, the year he released his comedy album Caught in the Act, Gregory moved with his family to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where he developed an interest in vegetarianism and became a nutritional consultant.
In 1984 he founded Health Enterprises, Inc., a company that distributed weight loss products. In 1987 Gregory introduced the Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet, a powdered diet mix, which was immensely profitable.
In 1998 Gregory spoke at the celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Clinton were in attendance.
In 2001, Gregory announced to the world that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of Cancer. He refused traditional medical treatment – chemotherapy –and with the assistance of some of the finest minds in alternative medicine, put together a regimen of a variety of diet, vitamins, exercise, and modern devices not even known to the public, which ultimately resulted in his reversing the trend of the Cancer to the point where today he is 100% Cancer free.
Gregory’s going public with his diagnosis has helped millions of his fans around the world to understand what Cancer specialists have been trying to explain for decades, which is that “Cancer is curable.”
Gregory once said about his life.”I’ve lived long enough to need two autobiographies which is fine with me.
By: Darwin Campbell