By Faron Manuel
On Saturday, Christian Gregory, the son of pioneering comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory released the following statement on behalf of the family:
It is with enormous sadness that the Gregory family confirms that their father, comedic legend and civil rights activist Mr. Dick Gregory departed this earth tonight in Washington DC. The family appreciates the outpouring of support and love, and respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time. More details will be released over the next few days.
Known for his satirical approach to stand up comedy, Gregory has long lambasted racism, promoted healthy living, and was known to privy his audiences to political realities. In his effort to live a life of consequence, Gregory addressed the ills of our world with humor and wit—encouraged us not only to think outside the box, but often proved that the box didn’t exist.
As a testament to his wit, one of my favorite tales of his activism took place in December 1963, when Gregory came down to Atlanta to assist the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in a sit-in at a Toddle House, a prominent restaurant chain in the south at the time. Long story short, Gregory was arrested as a result of the protest, and used a jailhouse phone to call his “man in New York to see if the Dobbs House [which owned Toddle House] was on the New York Stock Exchange—and it was.” He bought $10,000 worth of stock in the company, and had the paperwork flown down, and waiting for him when he got out of lockup the next day. Returning to the restaurant, the owner asked Gregory to leave, referring to the law—Gregory responded by showing his stock in the company. His first time using his finances to undermine racial discrimination in the law.
His work, as a comic and as an activist is parallel, as he not only used his platform to amplify various causes, but was known to unpacked our shared reality in his act. Satirizing segregation, religion, and his life experiences, Gregory had a knack for analyzing situations that most could relate to, but pulling out things that most of us didn’t notice.
Born Richard Claxton Gregory in St. Louis, Missouri, where Dick Gregory Place now meets Dr Martin Luther King Drive; Gregory was “not poor, just broke” but rose above his personal circumstances to stardom. The first black comic to preform “flat footed” at the Playboy Club, and the first black performer to be presented as a formal guest on the couch of Tonight Starring Jack Paar (The Tonight Show) in 1961—in the realm of comedy, Gregory was the prototype for the black social satirists that followed, like Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, and others.
Always using his time purposefully, Dick Gregory dedicated his life to the liberation of his people, realizing a standard of human rights for all, and sharing his wisdom with the multitudes over the years. From the Dr. King centered Civil Right’s movement that began in the 1950s, to contemporary struggles to overcome issues of racism, poverty, poor health, and so much more, Mr. Gregory has encouraged generations not only to laugh, but also to care. Often reminding us to “be like a turtle, hard on the outside, soft on the inside, and willing to stick your neck out!”
A man who took many forms throughout his lifetime: comic, activist, author, husband, father, nutritionist, presidential candidate—Mr. Gregory will be greatly missed by his family, friends, staff, and all who he touched with his advocacy, and his comedy. I too am deeply saddened by this loss, but learning to reflect on all we gained from his presence, and In the spit of Mr. Gregory, this post just wouldn’t be right if we didn’t end it with a good laugh, and a reminder to “KEEP DICK ALIVE!”
1) Lenticular portrait of Dick Gregory by Holographer Mark Diamond (the artist’s facebook page)
2) Dick Gregory Images, Pinterest
3) Dick Gregory Images, Pinterest
Statement from the family – https://www.instagram.com/p/BX_622KjGNB/?hl=en&taken-by=therealdickgregory
Dick Gregory Place (Map) – https://www.google.com/maps/place/Dick+Gregory+Pl,+St.+Louis,+MOfirstname.lastname@example.org,-90.2537765,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x87df4b3039044767:0x44e5b99476f627d1!8m2!3d38.6614471!4d-90.2515878
Biography – Dick Gregory, Nigger (New York: Pocket Books, 1986), 144.
Keep Dick Alive (Joke) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ej5FwzhUDcM