And we love to dance, especially that new one called the Civil War Twist. The Northern part of you stands still while the Southern part tries to secede.
Dick Gregory, one of a kind, died five years ago today. I found a draft of this post while doing clean-up for the Great Blog Merge, and he’s still — sadly — all too relevant…
.. Most of his career was based on using humour to make fun of and combat racism. For this reason he upset a lot of racist people, who branded him as anti-white and a danger to society…
Gregory published an autobiography, N*gger, in 1964. Many people were offended by the title of his book, but he defended it by saying “Any time you hear that word, they selling my book.”
During the Vietnam War, Gregory was one of the people at the forefront of opposition to the war and opposition to racial injustices, particularly against African-Americans but also against Natives. He was arrested at multiple protests for both of these issues and went on several hunger strikes.
Gregory was an outspoken feminist, and in 1978 joined a group of American suffragists in their march to ensure that the Equal Rights Amendment was ratified by the United States Congress. The march got the deadline for the ERA extended, but it ultimately failed to pass…
"I never learned hate at home, or shame. I had to go to school for that." – Dick Gregory
Rest in Power!
— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) August 20, 2017
I waited at the counter of a white restaurant for eleven years. When they finally integrated, they didn't have what I wanted. – Dick Gregory
— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) August 20, 2017
Wil Haygood, for the Washington Post — “One day with Dick Gregory made me know he was truly one of a kind”:
… It was in the summer of 2000 when I first met Gregory, having come to Washington from Boston to write about him. Many thought he was dying. He was down to 130 pounds. He had been diagnosed with lymphoma. When I entered the house where he was staying, it suddenly seemed as if I was meeting one of those people you imagine you’d never meet, someone who belonged to newsreel footage mostly. But there he stood, quite bony, eyes sparkling. The Abe Lincoln beard looked a little unkempt. You couldn’t help but feel sad for him. He was famous, and infamous, and dying.
He had given me an address, and told me to meet him there at 4:30 — “in the morning.” I thought the comedian was joking. He was not. He also told me to bring a pair of sneakers.
The next morning I found myself inside a house not far from Rock Creek Park. Gregory came bounding down the stairs. “Hey, baby.” That’s how he talked, like a Motown soul singer. He was crashing at this house. Through the years, people had liked putting him up. After all, he was Dick Gregory, the raconteur of the civil rights movement, the interpreter of modern-day American politics and a one-time presidential candidate. So he slept on sofas, in sleeping bags, on floors. On this particular visit, he explained to me, somebody in Marion Barry’s camp was putting him up. Before we got out the door, he was talking about radiation in cellphones and the danger of it. I was rubbing sleep from my damn eyes…
We kept moving. I wondered if the running had become a recent activity for him. He explained that he had been running since high school. He had been a cross-country runner. “The great thing about running the long distance,” he said, “is you run at your integrity. Running made me forget I was poor.”
Before the sun came up in Rock Creek Park, he had me laughing out loud. There were a good many stories about his peripatetic life. Funny stories about white people, black people, southern sheriffs and the CIA, whose agents he described as “spooks.”…
His political career was, well, interesting. He ran for mayor of Chicago against the big bad wolves of the Daley machine. He didn’t stand a chance, was crushed and decided he needed to set his goals higher. When he launched his run for the White House, he got fan mail — though there were also letters suggesting he check himself into Bellevue, a mental hospital. To boost his presidential ambitions, he printed fake American currency with his picture on it. Agents from the. Treasury Department didn’t think that was funny at all, and arrested him. The politically-inspired shenanigans of the official government — wiretapping civil rights leaders, for instance — had sparked Gregory’s mind so much he became, as the years rolled by, a champion conspiracy theorist. “I woke up with power,” he told me with a straight face, referring to the election in which Richard Nixon won in a landslide…
Dick Gregory, born in my hometown of St. Louis in 1932, actually ran for president in 1968 on the Peace and Freedom Party. pic.twitter.com/IWUpcQgosv
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) August 20, 2017
Monée Fields-White, for The Root:
… Born Oct. 12, 1932, in St. Louis, Gregory grew up in an impoverished community in that city. He helped to support his family from an early age. In high school he excelled in track and field, earning a scholarship to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He set school records in the 1/2-mile and 1-mile races. His college career was interrupted when the U.S. Army drafted him in 1954.
Gregory began to venture into comedy while in the Army, performing various routines in military shows. After briefly returning to Southern Illinois after being discharged in 1956, he moved to Chicago to join the national comedy circuit, without finishing his degree. He performed mostly in small, primarily black nightclubs while working at the U.S. Postal Service during the day. It was at one of those nightclubs that he met Lillian, the woman who became his wife in 1959. She and Gregory would have 10 children (as well as one child who died in infancy)…
Throughout his life, Gregory remained outspoken on many issues, including world hunger, capital punishment, women’s rights (he marched for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1978), health care and drug abuse. In 2005, at a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, he called the U.S. “the most dishonest, ungodly, unspiritual nation that ever existed in the history of the planet. As we talk now, America is 5 percent of the world’s population and consumes 96 percent of the world’s hard drugs.” As a protester, Gregory never stopped putting himself on the front lines: In 2004, at the age of 73, he was arrested while protesting against genocide outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C…
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) August 20, 2017
— The '60s at 50 (@the_60s_at_50) August 20, 2017
The Hollywood Reporter:
… Gregory’s big break came in 1961 when he was booked into the Playboy Club in downtown Chicago as a one-night replacement for Prof. Irwin Corey, a white comic who didn’t want to work seven nights a week.
“When I started, a black comic couldn’t work a white nightclub. You could sing, you could dance, but you couldn’t stand flat-footed and talk — then the system would know how brilliant black folks was,” Gregory recalled in a 2016 interview.
Playboy founder Hugh Hefner had spotted Gregory performing for a black audience, and he was paid $50 for the Playboy Club show — a huge payday for him at the time. One of Gregory’s jokes: “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. Being me a whole fried chicken.’”
The crowd during that first show, mostly white executives from a frozen-food company, loved him. He stayed on at the Playboy Club for three weeks (the gig turned into three years), and the attention got him a profile in Time magazine — “Dick Gregory, 28, has become the first Negro comedian to make his way into the nightclub big time.”
He was invited to perform on The Tonight Show in 1962, but Gregory said he wouldn’t go unless he was able to sit down next to host Jack Paar after his routine and be interviewed. A black performer had never done that before.
“I went in, and as I sat on the couch, talking about my children, so many people called the switchboard at NBC in New York that the circuits blew out,” he said. “And thousands of letters came in and folks were saying, ‘I didn’t know black children and white children were the same.’”…
— Tribeca (@Tribeca) August 20, 2017