All life so mattered to Dick Gregory that he explained, “Thou shalt not kill means everything with life in it. So, I don’t eat meat.” It was also part and parcel of his activism, appropriate to the current resurgence of hate groups.
In that same 1969 address, The Light Side, The Dark Side, his most popular recording, he asserted, “Everybody who got upset when Martin Luther King was assassinated wouldn’t be bothered if [American Nazi Party leader] Lincoln Rockwell was killed. We have to make this a country where we get upset regardless of who is killed or make her a nation that cares about nobody getting assassinated.”
That’s the kind of individual he was. He was possessed of piercing insight fueled by uncompromising humanity that cut through complicated issues to arrive at simple, if tough, solutions.
Brother Greg, as he often called himself, came to fame as a 1960s comedian, who in turbulent times, confronted controversy head-on with routines. He mocked bigotry and racism at a time when even the most successful Black performers tended to play it safe.
With The Light Side, The Dark Side (Poppy Records, 1969), having long spoken out on, and demonstrated for, civil rights, he segued into a full profile as staunch activist.
This activism included standing as an outspoken feminist, and in 1978, joining the likes of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug to lead the March for Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratification. The largest women’s march at the time.
Gregory flatly debunked conceptions proffered by the American media and generally accepted without question. Among those were: the Warren Commission findings that President John Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, which helped lead to the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation; James Earl Ray acting alone to murder Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — Gregory contended that the FBI had a hand; and Marilyn Monroe’s alleged suicide, which he attributed to Kennedy family machinations.
As a part of his activism, he went on several hunger strikes and campaigns in America and overseas, traveling to Tehran in 1980 to attempt to negotiate citizens’ release during the U.S. Embassy Hostage Crisis in Iran.
He also ran for various political offices, most notably the 1968 U.S. presidency and said afterward, “I was the only one running for president — the rest of them damned fools was runnin’ for sheriff.”
Gregory authored 13 books, most noted being, Nigger: An Autobiography, Write Me In! and, with conspiracy theorist Mark Lane, Murder in Memphis: The FBI and the Assassination of Martin Luther King.
The Light Side: The Dark Side was one of 15 recordings. He appeared in a half-dozen films, including the role of Rev. Slocum in Mario Van Peebles’ Panther.
A prominent believer in eating right, in 1984, he founded Health Enterprises, Inc., distributing weight-loss products. With this company, Gregory made efforts to improve the life expectancy of African Americans, which he believed was being hindered by poor nutrition and drug and alcohol abuse. Gregory called America “the most dishonest, ungodly, unspiritual nation that ever existed in the history of the planet. As we talk now, America is five percent of the world’s population and consumes 96 percent of the world’s hard drugs.”
Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory (October 12, 1932 – August 19, 2017), hospitalized for a bacterial infection, succumbed to heart failure in Washington, D.C. He is survived by his wife, Lillian Smith and 11 children.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Minneapolis, 55403