Today, on Brother Gregory’s birthday, I want to applaud the great Dick Gregory for the gift of his commitment, wisdom, and his genius! Dick Gregory, whose government name is Mr. Gregory was active in the civil rights movement from the beginning. He came to Selma, Alabama and spoke for two hours on a public platform two days before the voter registration drive known as “Freedom Day” (October 7, 1963). In 1964, Gregory became more involved in struggles for civil rights, activism against the Vietnam War, economic reform, anti-drug issues, conspiracy theories, and others. As a part of his activism, he went on several hunger strikes.
There are few people, who dare to speak truth to power. Brother Gregory is a fearless champion of the African American people, and dare I say the world. He has been at the forefront of Civil Rights before it was known as such. His is a comedian, writer, entrepreneur, social activist and critic.
Dick Gregory began his career as a comedian while serving in the military in the mid-1950s. He was drafted in 1954 while attending Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. After being discharged in 1956, he returned to the university but did not receive a degree. With a desire to perform comedy professionally, he moved to Chicago. He said of his early career, “Blacks could sing and dance in the white night clubs but weren’t allowed to stand flat-footed and talk to white folks, which is what a comic does.”
Gregory attributes the launch of his career to Hugh Hefner, who watched him perform at Herman Roberts Show Bar. Based on that performance, Hefner hired Gregory to work at the Chicago Playboy Club as a replacement for the white comedian Professor Irwin Corey. Shortly after that Gregory’s first TV appearance was on the late night The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar, which positioned him to begin appearing nationally and on television.
Gregory currently stands at number 82 on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 Greatest Stand-up comics of all time and has his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. There is a grassroots effort afoot to get him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, spearheaded by Radio One host Joe Madison.
Mr. Gregory was active in the civil rights movement from the beginning. He came to Selma, Alabama and spoke for two hours on a public platform two days before the voter registration drive known as “Freedom Day” (October 7, 1963). In 1964, Gregory became more involved in struggles for civil rights, activism against the Vietnam War, economic reform, anti-drug issues, conspiracy theories, and others. As a part of his activism, he went on several hunger strikes.
Gregory began his political career by running against Richard J. Daley for the mayoralty of Chicago in 1967. Though he did not emerge victorious; this would not prove to be the end of his dalliances in electoral politics. He also unsuccessfully ran for President of the United States in 1968 as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party.
He wrote the book “Write Me In” about his presidential campaign. One interesting anecdote therein relates the story of a publicity stunt that came out of Operation Breadbasket in Chicago where the campaign had printed dollar bills with Gregory’s image on them, some of which made it into circulation, causing considerable problems, but priceless publicity. The majority of these bills were quickly seized by the federal government.
He was an early outspoken critic of the Warren Commission findings that President JFK was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. On March 6, 1975, Gregory and assassination researcher Robert Groden appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s late night ABC talk show Goodnight America. An important historical event happened that night when the famous Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination was shown to the public on TV for the first time in history. The public’s response and outrage to that showing led to the forming of the Hart-Schweiker investigation, which contributed to the Church Committee Investigation on Intelligence Activities by the United States, which resulted in the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation.
In 1998 Gregory spoke at the celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with President Bill Clinton in attendance. Not long after, the President told Gregory’s long-time friend and P.R. Consultant, Steve Jaffe, “I love Dick Gregory; he is one of the funniest people on the planet.” They spoke of how Gregory had made a comment on Dr. King’s birthday that broke everyone into laughter when he noted that the President made Speaker Newt Gingrich ride “in the back of the plane,” on an Air Force One trip overseas.
At a Civil Rights rally marking the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Gregory criticized the United States, calling it “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”.
Gregory announced a hunger strike on September 10, 2010, saying in a commentary published by the Centre for Research on Globalization in Montreal that he doubted the official U.S. report about the attacks on September 11, 2001. “One thing I know is that the official government story of those events, as well as what took place that day at the Pentagon, is just that, a story. This story is not the truth, but far from it. I was born on October 12, 1932. I am announcing today that I will be consuming only liquids beginning Sunday until my eightieth birthday in 2012 and until the real truth of what truly happened on that day emerges and is publicly known.”
His most lasting impression resulted from his 1984 founding of the Health Enterprises, Inc., a company that distributed weight loss products. With this company, Gregory made efforts to improve the life expectancy of African Americans, which he believes is being hindered by poor nutrition and drug and alcohol abuse. In 1985 Gregory introduced the “Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet,” a powdered diet mix. He launched the weight-loss powder at the Whole Life Expo in Boston under the slogan “It’s cool to be healthy.” The diet mix, drunk three times a day, was said to provide rapid weight loss. Gregory received a multimillion-dollar distribution contract to retail the diet.
As we celebrate this his born day, I want to pay homage to the Honorable Dick Gregory for his commitment and dedication to speak truth to power and for the knowledge to empower all of us. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…
- Nigger: An Autobiography, with Robert Lipsyte, E.P. Dutton, September 1964. (one account says 1963) (reprinted, Pocket Books, 1965-present)
- Write me in!, Bantam, 1968.
- From the Back of the Bus
- What’s Happening?
- The Shadow that Scares Me
- Dick Gregory’s Bible Tales, with Commentary, a book of Bible-based humor. ISBN 0-8128-6194-9
- Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature! ISBN 0-06-080315-0
- (with Shelia P. Moses), Callus on My Soul: A Memoir ISBN 0-7582-0202-4
- Up from Nigger
- No More Lies; The Myth and the Reality of American History
- Dick Gregory’s political primer
- (with Mark Lane), Murder in Memphis: The FBI and the Assassination of Martin Luther King
- (with Mel Watkins), African American Humor: The Best Black Comedy from Slavery to Today (Library of Black America)
- Robert Lee Green, Dick Gregory, daring Black leader
- African American Humor: The Best Black Comedy from Slavery to Today (editor) ISBN 1-55652-430-7