Dick Gregory Dead At Age 84
Born Richard Claxton Gregory on October 12, 1932 in St. Louis, he transitioned today at the age of 84. There is no list that can pay due honor to his accomplishments and inspirations.
As a teenager, Dick Gregory earned a track scholarship to attend Southern Illinois University in Carbondale but his education was cut short when he was drafted in the U.S. Army in 1954. His commanding officer noticed that Dick had a knack for joking, and Dick entered and won several military talent shows. In 1956 after his discharge, Dick returned to the University but then dropped out saying that the university “didn’t want me to study, they wanted me to run.”
As a young man, Dick moved to Chicago and became part of a new generation of Black comedians along with Nipsey Russel. They broke with stereotypical Black entertainers by drawing on current events, including racial issues. As Dick Gregory said once, “Segregation is not all bad. Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?”
Even with his talent, Dick Gregory did not give up his day job. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service. He attributed the launch of his career to Hugh Hefner. Hefner saw Dick perform where he told the following;
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. 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.
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.”
Then these three white boys came up to me and said, “Boy, we’re giving you fair warning. Anything you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you.” So I put down my knife and fork, I picked up that chicken and I kissed it. Then I said, “Line up, boys!”
Hefner hired Dick Gregory to work at the Chicago Playboy Club to replace “Professor” Irwin Corey.
More Than A Comedian
October 7, 1963, Gregory went to Selma, Alabama, and spoke for two hours on a public platform two days before the voter registration drive known as “Freedom Day”.
In 1964, Gregory became involved in civil rights activities, activism against the Vietnam War, economic reform, and anti-drug issues. As a part of his activism, he went on several hunger strikes and campaigns in America and overseas.
In 1966, Gregory was arrested in Chicago while protesting for equality in education.
In 1968. Dick Gregory entered politics, running for mayor of Chicago and for U.S. President. Although not elected, his efforts landed him on the master list of Nixon’s political opponents.
Gregory wrote several books of racial humor; the first was “From the Back of the Bus” (1962). Gregory shocked the country by titling his second book, an autobiography, “NIGGER!” (1964). He described his humble beginnings and the racism he experienced at Southern Illinois University in the 1950s. He wrote additional books as well.
In the 1970’s Gregory left comedy to concentrate on activism, widening it from race relations to world hunger, capital punishment, drug abuse and poor health care. To get attention to the problems, Gregory went on at least 100 hunger fasts. He stated that he had spiritual awakenings due to fasting.
Dick Gregory On John Lennon and the song Imagine
Dick Gregory Talks About His Experience in Selma, and please don’t miss his talk about the turtle and the butterfly that begins at 10:07 into the video.