Richard Claxton ‘Dick’ Gregory (October 12, 1932 – August 19, 2017) was an influential comedian and civil rights activist whose social satire changed the way white Americans perceived African American comedians since he first performed in public. His participation in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s is well-documented, as are his efforts on behalf of American Indians, for world peace and against hunger.
Legendary Activist Dick Gregory was on the frontline in the sixties during the Civil Rights Era; he continued to be a “drum major for justice and equality.” Gregory was arrested for civil disobedience several times. As a part of his activism, he went on several hunger strikes to publicize the world hunger problem, to draw attention to the nation’s drug abuse epidemic, and to emphasize the plight of the American Indians.
After a childhood of poverty in St. Louis, Gregory attended college on a track scholarship and later served two years in the army. In the middle 1950s he concentrated on finding work as a comedian, always having had, as he says, “a good rap.” As he became better established as a comedian, Gregory put his convictions into practice by devoting much of his time to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. On behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress on Racial Equality, and other prominent civil rights organizations, Gregory made appearances at demonstrations, marches, and rallies throughout the country. Dick Gregory and his activism spurred him to run for mayor of Chicago in 1966 and for president in 1968 which garnered substantial media attention.
Dick Gregory: No White Liberalism in Black Power, 1969
Many Native American Indians, including Janet McCloud retaliated with their own adaptation of 1960s civil disobedience — fish-ins — to protest interference with treaty rights. The war also continued in the media as a parade of the famous came to support the American Indian cause: Marlon Brando was arrested in 1964 while “helping some Indian friends fish” on the Puyallup River, Dick Gregory was jailed for joining the American Indians in illegal fishing.
“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.” ~Dick Gregory
“I never learned hate at home, or shame. I had to go to school for that.” ~Dick Gregory
“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!”
In the early 1970s Gregory abandoned comedy to focus on his political interests, which widened from race relations to include such issues as violence, world hunger, capital punishment, drug abuse and poor health care. Gregory ran for President of the United States in 1968 as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party, which had broken off from the Peace and Freedom Party. Gregory became an 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. Gregory was an outspoken feminist, and in 1978 he joined the National ERA March for Ratification and Extension, a march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the United States Capitol of over 100,000 on Women’s Equality Day (August 26), 1978 to demonstrate for a ratification deadline extension for the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution, and for the ratification of the ERA. The Women’s Movement was largely successful in securing gender equality in the laws and society.
Gregory and Mark Lane conducted landmark research into the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which helped move the U.S. House Assassinations Committee to investigate the murder, along with that of John F. Kennedy. Mark Lane was author of conspiracy theory books such as Rush to Judgment. The pair wrote the MLK conspiracy book Code Name Zorro, which postulated that convicted assassin James Earl Ray did not act alone.
“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.” ~Dick Gregory
Dick Gregory was an outspoken activist during the US Embassy Hostage Crisis in Iran. In 1980 he traveled to Tehran to attempt to negotiate the hostages’ release and engaged in a public hunger strike there, weighing less than 100 pounds (45 kg) when he returned to the United States. 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. Since the late 1980s, Gregory has been a figure in the health food industry by advocating for a raw fruit and vegetable diet.
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”. In response to published allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had supplied cocaine to predominantly Black American areas in Los Angeles, thus spurring the crack epidemic, Gregory protested at CIA headquarters and was arrested.
Gregory announced a hunger strike on September 10, 2010, saying in a commentary published by the Centre for Research on Globalisation 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.” ~Dick Gregory