by G. Brown
He burst onto the scene in the 60s during one of the most turbulent times in American history and still made us laugh at our troubles. Civil Rights Activist, author, comedian Dick Gregory died of heart failure Saturday in a Washington D.C. hospital where he had been admitted a week earlier due to a bacterial infection. Gregory was 84 years old.
Gregory started his professional life as comedian who built a reputation as a “no-holds-barred” kind of guy who went hard after tough social topics like racism, poverty and bigotry. He discovered his talent for entertaining after being drafted into the army in the mid 50s . Once his military term ended, Gregory tried returning to academia where he was studying to earn an undergraduate degree at Southern Illinois University, but the comedy bug had bitten him so withdrew and headed off to Chicago. In the early years, his only bookings were at Black-owned clubs performing for segregated audiences. One night on stage at Chicago’s Roberts Show Bar , Gregory found himself before a largely White audience where he didn’t shy away from his cutting edge humor. Gregory shared, “Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, “We don’t serve colored people here.” I said, “That’s all right. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.”
In the audience that night was a local Chicago publisher and club owner who hired Gregory to come perform at his infamous club. The club was “The Playboy Club” and Gregory often thanked its owner Hugh Hefner for the break which led to national TV appearances, radio shows and speaking engagements. Gregory’s comedy was sharp with reflections on life that were thought provoking and revolutionary. As the keynote speaker at a Philadelphia suburban college, Gregory told students, “Once I accept injustice, I become injustice.” His, platform grew beyond racial discrimination to include activism against the Vietnam War, drugs and poverty.
Gregory penned at least 16 books including a 1964 biography titled Nigger, The Shadow that Scares Me and No More Lies; The Myth and the Reality of American History.
While audiences saw him plying his trade at night on stages and nightclubs, in the light of day you were likely to see him marching arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther in the fight against racial injustice which often ended with him serving time behind bars or on prolonged hunger strikes.
Gregory used his wit to entertain audiences and his wisdom to enlighten listeners. His death prompted inspiring and loving words from Blacks and Whites, comedians, actors, singers and politicians.
When asked once during a TV news interview how he want to be remembered, Gregory answered that he wanted to remembered as “a tiny butterfly and slow turtles… Someone who was hard on the outside, soft on the insides and willing to stick his neck out for others.”
Gregory will be remembered for so much more…as a man who not only dedicated his life to trying to do what was right, but for inspiring generations from baby boomers to YouTubers to fight injustice by adding their truth to power.
TRN extends its deepest condolences to Gregory’s wife Lillian, his 11 children, his friends and fans. Rest in peace Mr. Gregory.