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Remembering Dick Gregory

August 26, 2017

African American comedian Dick Gregory died at the age of 84. He was a friend of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, a civil rights and antiwar activist, social critic, writer, and actor. He embodied the rebellious spirit of the 1960s and kept that spirit alive even as most of his fellow travelers retreated, expressing his stinging criticism of US society with dead seriousness and irreverent humor. 

Born in St Louis, Missouri, Gregory was raised, with his five siblings, by his mother Lucille, who worked long hours at menial jobs to support them after their father deserted the family.

During his eventful life he performed in nightclubs, including Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club in Chicago, as well as in churches, at political rallies, and in acclaimed TV shows. 

He was jailed, beaten, and shot at civil rights protests. He disputed the Warren Commission report about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, was on Nixon’s enemies list, and a target of FBI surveillance. He was a write-in candidate in presidential elections for the Freedom and Peace party. He staged a public fast to protest against the Vietnam war and a hunger strike in Iran during the 1980 Tehran hostage crisis after he failed to negotiate a release of the embassy personal.

Gregory was an outspoken feminist, and in 1978 joined Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Margaret Heckler, Barbara Mikulski, and other suffragists to lead the National ERA March for Ratification and Extension.

After being a chainsmoker and heavy drinker he became drug abstinent, a vegetarian, and an animal rights activist. When Gregory was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer in 1999 he was treating the cancer with herbs, vitamins, and exercise, which apparently kept the cancer in remission.

One of his famous comedy routines:

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 a 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!

Some quotes:

When the white Christian missionaries went to Africa, the white folks had the bibles and the natives had the land. When the missionaries pulled out, they had the land and the natives had the bibles.

Segregation’s not all bad. Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?

I used to get letters saying, “I didn’t know black children and white children were the same.”

I never learned hate at home, or shame. I had to go to school for that.

I never believed in Santa Claus because I knew no white dude would come into my neighborhood after dark.

I am really enjoying the new Martin Luther King Jr. stamp – just think about all those white bigots, licking the backside of a black man.

I waited at the counter of a white restaurant for eleven years. When they finally integrated, they didn’t have what I wanted.

Just being a Negro doesn’t qualify you to understand the race situation any more than being sick makes you an expert on medicine.

We used to root for the Indians against the cavalry, because we didn’t think it was fair in the history books that when the cavalry won it was a great victory, and when the Indians won it was a massacre.

What we’re doing in Vietnam is using the black man to kill the yellow man so the white man can keep the land he took from the red man.

I wouldn’t mind paying taxes — if I knew they were going to a friendly country.

Poor is a state of mind you never grow out of, but being broke is just a temporary condition.

Love is man’s natural endowment, but he doesn’t know how to use it. He refuses to recognize the power of love because of his love of power.

Because I’m a civil rights activist, I am also an animal rights activist. Animals and humans suffer and die alike. Violence causes the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel and vicious taking of life. We shouldn’t be a part of it.

America will tolerate the taking of a human life without giving it a second thought. But don’t misuse a household pet.

You know, I always say white is not a color, white is an attitude, and if you haven’t got trillions of dollars in the bank that you don’t need, you can’t be white.

The way Americans seem to think today, about the only way to end hunger in America would be for Secretary of Defense to go on national TV and say we are falling behind the Russians in feeding folks.

Everything we do we should look at in terms of millions of people who can’t afford it.

One of the things I keep learning is that the secret of being happy is doing things for other people.

Now here’s what I’m saying: I’ve always believed that every other month we hear about compromization of bank records, I think that’s the CIA and the FBI. Now let me tell you why I’m saying this. I don’t believe no insignificant pip-squeak is going to be able to pull this off month after month and we can’t find out what’s going on.

I buy about $1,500 worth of papers every month. Not that I trust them. I’m looking for the crack in the fabric.

There is a limit on how much information you can keep bottled up.

If democracy is such a good thing, let’s have more of it.

The only good thing about the good old days is that they’re gone.

Y’all act like this country was good and then got bad. This country ain’t never been no good.

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.

Written words can only convey that much. One should look up videoclips of him on the internet to get the full power of his appearance.

Dick Gregory was an extraordinary person and he deserves to be remembered fondly. A few of his actions and views could be deemed controversial even by open minded people but this doesn’t taint his legacy. He was a rebellious mind, not bowing to authority, seeking for the truth, fighting for fairness, equality, and peace.

He will not be forgotten, he didn’t live and fight in vain.

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