Segregation is not all bad. Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?- Dick Gregory
Dick Gregory could be described as one of the greats of stand-up comedy history, or one of the most uplifting African-American civil-rights activists of all time. However, one thing is for sure, Gregory's charismatic personality has inspired others to become someone special, or do something special.Early daysRichard Claxton Gregory, better known as Dick, was born on October 12, 1932, in a run-down neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri. His mother had to rear him alone, and survived on the government's assistance of "lemons and limes." Dick's mother was rigorously motivated, however, and supplied the Gregory household with the little bit of public assistance she received monthly, as well as "bottom-of-the-barrel" wages she made as a part-time maid. Food in the household was scarce, and when it came time to pay the electric bill, there wasn't always money.Kids can be cruel, and young Dick was not an exempt target. Battering and verbal abuse during his early school days became a daily routine for the poor, "uncool" black kid who lived on the wrong side of the tracks. The ammunition Dick fired back at bullies wasn't in the form of wheedling or defiance, but a few lines of "shut-'em-up" comedy that left his enemies thinking twice.Dick's involvement in civil rights activism started at a young age, but his public appearances didn't begin until he organized and led a march protesting segregated schools while attending Sumner High School in St. Dick's grades throughout school were lower than average, which didn't leave much chance of getting into college. James, Dick landed a scholarship at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, following his senior year.Dick's college track days came to a halt when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1954. The respect and comraderie that resulted from his successful stage performances in the service paved the way for something special to come.ChicagoAfter serving two years in the army, Dick Gregory returned to college at Carbondale, only to drop out because he believed that the school only wanted him to run and not learn.Comedy had become a kind of calling for Gregory. Performing had become a passion, and destiny had Chicago, Illinois, written all over it.Gregory landed a job with the U.S. Postal Service shortly after arriving in Chicago, then he followed his "calling" into predominately black nightclubs. His love for the small stage was shared with such new and upcoming greats as Bill Cosby, Godfrey Cambridge, and Nipsey Russell.That new generation of comedians departed from the traditional tongue-in-cheek comedic style, favoring a more "in-your-face" approach — especially evident when Gregory was on stage. With plenty of cynical satire, Gregory found a way to express his racial concerns, and his take on current events, while leaving the audience rolling in their seats: "I never believed in Santa Claus because I knew no white dude would come into my neighborhood after dark."Gregory became nationally recognized in 1961 when, at the request of Hugh Hefner, he was booked at the Chicago's Playboy Club as a fill-in for comedian, Professor Irwin Corey. Dick's performance at Hefner's club provoked gales of laughter, which ultimately landed him a permanent job and the beginnings of fame.ActivismGregory stepped down from the limelight following a year of work at the Playboy Club. He took up his verbal foil against world hunger, dictatorships, drug abuse, and the Vietnam War. He even traveled to Iran to fast in an attempt to coax the Ayatollah Khomeini into releasing American embassy hostages.
In 1963, Gregory published his autobiography titled, Nigger, which would later become a best seller in the U.S. Even today, the work is a sought-after reference by activists, and has retailed more than seven million copies. Gregory has described his choice for the title in a letter that he sent to his mother, "Whenever you hear the word nigger, you'll know their advertising my book."As a write-in candidate representing the Freedom and Peace Party, Gregory made a surprising, if unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1968. Many political theorists agree that Gregory's 1.5 million votes probably hurt Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, who lost the election to Richard Nixon. Gregory also wrote a book titled, Write me In, following his presidential campaign.The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy, prompted Gregory to team up with renowned film maker, attorney, and author, Mark Lane, to co-write Code Name Zorro: The Murder of Martin Luther King Jr., in 1971. Gregory and Lane became close friends while delivering more than 40 years of lectures related to such topics.BusinessmanIn 1973, Gregory moved with his wife, Lillian, and 9 children to Plymouth, Massachusetts, following the release of his comedy album, Caught in the Act.Gregory had begun a vegetarian quest in the 1960s, eventually restricting his diet to fruits and vegetables. He also become a nutritional consultant. While pursuing his mission for racial justice over the next decade, Gregory also founded Health Enterprises, Inc., in 1984. The weight-loss company, which introduced the Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet, saw profits almost immediately, and made life comfortable for the Gregorys.Gregory's activism continued well into the 1990s, and often got him into hot water. He publicly alleged that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had started the crack epidemic by supplying cocaine to predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Los Angeles. When Gregory continued his allegations in person in front of CIA headquarters, he was immediately arrested and incarcerated.RedemptionOwing to a financial crisis that was largely precipitated by a confrontation with business partners, Gregory's dietary empire failed, which left him and his family evicted from their home in 1992. A turn of events for such a remarkable survivor as Gregory only spurred him on. The same year, Gregory launched a crime-fighting campaign that targeted St. Louis, dubbed "Campaign for Human Dignity."In 1996, Gregory re-entered the spotlight to give what had been the foundation of his career another shot. The recorded Dick Gregory Live became a colossal hit, hailed by critics as one of the greatest stand-up performances in comedy history.The year 2001 brought bad news for Gregory. He had been diagnosed with cancer. Like a true nutritionist, Gregory opted to pass up chemotherapy and place matters into the hands of Mother Nature. Following an intense combination of dieting, vitamin supplements, and exercise, Gregory is nearly 85 percent free of it.Dick Gregory's striving for excellence and rigid discipline led to his latest book, Callous on My Soul, a continuation of his first autobiography, which also became a best seller.On April 21, 2005, Gregory delivered his State of the Union Address to African-Americans live via the Internet. Dick Gregory, longtime friend Mark Lane, as well as his family, currently reside in Washington, D.C.