Whenever I think of Dick Gregory I was always think of him telling the joke, in which he said he was at a segregated restaurant in the South and ordered chicken. He said some White men surrounded him and said, “boy whatever you do to that chicken we are going to do to you,” so Gregory said,” I picked the chicken up and kissed it.
Dick Gregory did so many things in his brief time on earth that its hard to list them all, but it can be summed up by saying that Gregory was a Black man who stood up.
Gregory had a keen sense of justice that can be seen in his college days at Southern Illinois University. He earned a scholarship there as a miler and half miler. His drafting into the Armed Services cut short his career in 1954 but when he came back to school he dropped out because he said the school was just interested in him “running” but not getting an education.
The comedian started his career doing variety shows in the Army and discovered he had a knack for comedy and began performing in small Black clubs and the “chitlin” circuit. He eventually became one of the first Black comedians to perform in White clubs and adopted a kind of comedy that focused on social issues which was adopted by Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor and which has been followed more dutifully by comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle.
In a “White” club in a Northern town (keep in mind that forced segregation was practiced in the Northern US as well as the South) Gregory told the audience, “I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night.”
Gregory was always pushing back against segregation in the 1960’s. He refused to appear on the Tonight Show back in the early 1960’s which was key to making it to the big time until the host Jack Paar agreed to allow him to sit with the host after he performed.
Unlike many who have followed behind him Gregory took to the front lines of the struggle against racism and White Supremacy. It wasn’t that unusual in those days for well known Black entertainers to not only speak out but actually get directly involved in the struggle for racial equality.
Gregory did it all in the area of human rights. He marched and raised money in the fight against Jim Crow. In the North he ran a few campaigns for office and even was a write in for president one year.
The comedian should also be well remembered for his fasts. In fact that’s what I remember most about him he seemed to be always fasting to protest something. It endeared him to my generation which admired him for putting his body on the line.
The entertainer/activist was also on the front lines for Women’s Rights and participated in the Anti-apartheid movement attempting to free South African blacks from the racial caste system that existed at the time.
Some folks frowned when he delved into the health food industry but credit has to be given because he was one of the first well known Blacks to talk to Black people about eating healthier and considering a vegan lifestyle.
The comedian and humanitarian must have been somebody special because the government’s hired thugs the FBI headed by J Edgar Hoover saw him as a public enemy.
He was a man, our man, a funny man that used humor to advance the cause of civil and human rights!
Dick Gregory Presente!