“His Laughter was a Battle Cry”: Thousands Celebrate Comedian & Human Rights Legend Dick Gregory


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,
The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. This past Saturday, thousands gathered at
the City of Praise Family Ministries in Landover, Maryland, to celebrate the life of legendary
comedian and human rights activist Dick Gregory, who passed away August 19th at the age of
84. In the early ’60s, Dick Gregory became one
of the most popular comedians in the country, paving the way for generations of African-American
comedians and performers. He was the first African-American comedian
to sit on the couch of The Tonight Show, then hosted by Jack Parr. As his popularity grew, so did his activism. In 1967, Dick Gregory ran for mayor of Chicago
against the infamous Richard Daley. He was a close friend of the Reverend Martin
Luther King Jr. And in 1968, Dick Gregory ran for president
against Richard Nixon. He also became well known for his hunger strikes
for justice. In 1967, Dick Gregory began a public fast,
starting Thanksgiving Day, to protest the war in Vietnam. Forty days later, he broke his fast with a
hearty glass of fruit juice. He weighed 97 pounds. In the summer of 1968, he fasted for 45 days
as a show solidarity with Native Americans. The following summer, he did another 45-day
fast in protest of de facto segregation in the Chicago public schools. In 1970, Gregory went 81 days without food
to bring attention to the drug problem in America. Beginning in 1971, he went nearly three years
without solid food, again to protest the war. During that fast, he ran 900 miles, from Chicago
to Washington, D.C. During the Iran hostage crisis, Dick Gregory
traveled to Tehran in an effort to free the hostages, and traveled to the north of Ireland
to advise hunger-striking IRA prisoners. In his campaign against hunger, he traveled
to Ethiopia more than 10 times. More recently, his face appeared in newspapers
across the country for his community action approach to investigate allegations behind
CIA connection with drugs in the African-American community. He camped out in dealer-ridden public parks
and rallied community leaders to shut down head shops. He protested at CIA headquarters and was arrested. Throughout his life, Dick Gregory has been
a target of FBI and police surveillance, and he was virtually banned from the entertainment
arena for his political activism. Well, Saturday’s six-hour celebration of
Dick Gregory featured passionate speeches and musical tributes. The program booklet also included letters
from former President Barack Obama, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the NAACP
and the Congressional Black Caucus. We turn now to some of those who gathered
to remember Dick Gregory. We hear from the children of the legends Martin
Luther King Jr., Richard Pryor, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers—their children. We’ll also hear from Congressmember Maxine
Waters. We begin with Reverend William Barber, president
and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach. REV. WILLIAM BARBER: To anyone who thinks justice—injustice
is final, the joke’s on you. Psalm 37:12 and 13 says, “The wicked plot
against the godly; they snarl at them in defiance. But the Lord just laughs, for he sees their
day of judgment coming.” Dick Gregory knew this. He was a free man, never lost his humanity. He was a political and comedic satirist of
the highest order. One writer said that “Humorist-activist Dick
Gregory was a man of many words whose fighting spirit helped transform … America.” He “was known for his off-the-cuff, no-holds-barred
humor. He could captivate any crowd with his cool
but passionate demeanor.” He said that “He openly refused to shy away
from stinging subjects, but often reminded people that humor was not enough.” It was a vehicle, but not enough. He said, “Humor can no more find a solution
to race problems than it can cure cancer. We didn’t laugh Hitler out of existence,”
he once said. “In a time when dissenting opinion,” this
writer said, “on race and discrimination could put a literal target on your back, Gregory
wasn’t just peddling funny. He said it like he saw it, but then he did
it, marching for voting rights … performing at benefits for civil rights groups. He was even shot in the leg while serving
as a peacemaker during the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles.” I love that. Gregory once said about racism—Brother Gregory,
he said, “Whole lots of Americans got that attitude, and we tolerate it because you can
hide your feeling behind policies. That’s why we’ve got to work to flush
this whole thing out.” Gregory understood that racism was far more
than whether or not you had a black friend. His laughter was a battle cry. His jokes were not merely for entertainment
and money, but for empowerment and movement building. His laughter and his comedy was a bold critique. His satire was fearless and bold as he challenged
America’s original sins of genocide and racism and war. He boldly went where other comedians refused
to go. But his comedy was not only a battle cry and
a bold critique, his comedy and his laughter was a balm in Gilead. It helped to heal the wounds and the soul’s
scars of slavery, Jim Crow, the wounds caused by the violent vestiges and dehumanizations
of racism and poverty and war. His comedy helped us live through and make
it through the psychic trauma. He was a genius. He was brilliant. His comedy was not mere buffoonery. It gave us backbone. And when you listen to Dick Gregory’s comedy,
you were not hearing a performer, but a prophet. You know the prophets of the Bible were political
satirists. When Jeremiah put iron yoke around his neck
to show the nation how foolish it was to do wrong, he was being a comedic satirist. It was comedic, it was satirical genius, when
Jesus said to the hypocrites of his day, “When you try to be religious on the outside, but
you hurt people on the inside, it’s just like having graves that you make real white,
but inside of them they’re full of dead men’s bones.” When Jesus, in his day, said to the hypocrites,
“You try to be religious, but you leave undone love, mercy and justice.” That’s comedic genius. And Dick Gregory was prophetic. In fact, I want to channel my inner Dick Gregory. If Dick was commenting today, he might just
say, “You know, president kissed black babies in Texas the other day. And some say he’s not a racist or a white
supremacist. Well,” Dick might say, “we don’t need to
remember the Alamo. We need to remember the okey-doke.” Because when you kiss a black baby in Texas
while you’re trying to take babies’ healthcare in D.C.; when you kiss a black baby in Texas,
but you’re stealing their voting rights in D.C.; when you kiss a baby or a brown baby
in Texas, but you’re stealing their immigrant rights in D.C.—that is the okey-doke. Or—or if I was to channel my inner Dick
Gregory, I can hear him saying to some parts of white America, “We poor black folk and
white folks has better come together and stop voting for these people lying to you about
tax cuts and this extremism, when all they’re going to do is give more tax cuts to the greedy. You better learn how to work with black folks
and brown folks, because when they get all your money and give it to the corporation,
and you lose your jobs and can’t pay your light bill, just remember, we all black in
the dark.” I’m just saying. Dick Gregory—Dick Gregory’s comedy was
prophetic. It cut to the truth, challenged lies, exposed
racism as a form of societal insanity and made a fool of Jim Crow. He wasn’t performing, y’all. He was preaching. He made you want to leave the comedy club
and get in the fight for justice. ANNOUNCER: When our mothers and fathers decide
to change the world, and they do, their places in history are cemented, and they’re among
our most honored and revered legends. Picking up the mantle to continue the fight
for justice are the children of the way makers and freedom fighters we hold so dear. So please put your hands together to welcome
Rain Pryor, the daughter of Richard Pryor. RAIN PRYOR: I am honored to be here and share
in this day of celebration of our newest ancestor, Baba Dick Gregory. I remember the first three books my father
ever gave me: Revolutionary Suicide, Huey P. Newton; Malcolm X; and Nigger. I was to read them and understand them well. Today, I can feel the ase of our ancestors. I can feel the ase of his family. I can the ase of all the admirers that are
here. Baba Dick Gregory, prolific activist, wielding
truth like kings wield swords, his words poignant, funny, painful, awakening, joyous, like that
of ancient griots who float on ancestral drums heard in the rhythm of our hearts. Baba Gregory was a part of my prior life,
since I was old enough to understand and listen with a whole heart to the stories that made
our eyes water and our sides split from masterful and master-filled lips that poured out truth
libations, truths that were soul food, truths that were a map so we could live by their
words. Baba Gregory would tell me, “Drink truth wisely,
to choose your words like the great ancestral wordsmiths without getting drunk on its lies,
told about us and told about them. Be who you say. It don’t matter what the theys have to say. Be your purity.” So, today, as we honor our newest iconic ancestor
and stand with the Gregory family, let us all remember what the real meaning of carrying
the legacy means. Carrying the legacy is not for us to become. It’s not for us to morph into. It’s not for us to imitate their greatness. The legacy is to always speak our highest
truth and become better than their greatness, better than what they carved out, etched and
breathed into this life. It is to recall their spirit and those of
the ancestors and keep them lifted in our actions as we become the change they sought,
as we become the words that they wrote. Legacy is what runs through our veins and
every manifestation that we touch. As Baba would have wanted, let us celebrate
and raise up his living legacies, so that they can keep growing their wings. And as we say in my tradition, when magic
touches both Earth and sky, aseyo. ANNOUNCER: Reena Evers, daughter of Medgar
Evers. REENA EVERS-EVERETTE: Though they were not
blood brothers, my father and Dick Gregory were brothers of the spiritual part. They connected on the intellectual level. They connected emotionally, especially when
he came to our home in Jackson, Mississippi. And welcome back, Mark, if you ever go back
to Jackson. I remember the times of heated discussions
and peals of laughter, because my father had a wicked sense of humor, and Dick Gregory
brought out every wicked strain he had. And I just remember there was one time that
they had a heated discussion over the N-word and where it was appropriate and how to use
it and how to own it or disown it. I found out later, in my twenties, when at
one function that we attended with Dick Gregory, he came up to me and said, “Girl.” And I said, “I’m here. I’m here.” “Come here. Sit down.” “Yes, sir.” “Sit down. Come here. Y’all just leave us alone.” Because other people were around. And he said, “I want to tell you about your
dad. And I want to tell you the promise I made
him. I’m your godfather.” And I said, “What?” He said, “I promised him I would protect you,
and I would help you move up in life. And that’s not moving up financially. That’s spiritual. That’s understanding what humanity is all
about.” So, I have special memories of laughter, but
always of knowledge, always of feeling from the heart, determination to make things right. ANNOUNCER: Martin Luther King III, the son
of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. MARTIN LUTHER KING III: He’s been a friend,
really, to a lot of us. But he was a mentor to me, like a father figure,
having lost my father at 10 years old, not having an opportunity to have adult conversations,
but having the opportunity to have many with Dick Gregory. Many of those words, those deeds, I will never
forget. I think it’s very interesting that when
Dick Gregory transitioned on that day in August, that on that same day, in the state where
his children were raised and wife lives, in Massachusetts, there was the largest demonstration
for peace and justice and human rights, on the day that he went home to live with God. I think it’s very interesting that just
yesterday in the city of St. Louis, where Dick Gregory was born, that there were protesters
protesting about the death of an African American who had been killed by police. And what probably went unnoticed was most
of those protesters were white Americans. Even they realize that injustice anywhere
is a threat to justice everywhere. ANNOUNCER: Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of
Malcolm X. ILYASAH SHABAZZ: On behalf of my five sisters,
I am humbled and honored to be here with you on this special day, as we celebrate the life
of this extraordinary man, Baba Dick Gregory. Much like our fathers, Dick Gregory stood
up to the power structure to reclaim truth and justice for his people. And when it was time to clarify who took Brother
Malcolm’s life, it was Dick Gregory who rose to the occasion. And when it was time to clarify who assassinated
Dr. Martin Luther King, it was Dick Gregory who rose to the occasion. He raised his voice for Malcolm and Dr. King
and Medgar Evers and all of the others who were slain by bullies, by bigots, because
they could not do so for themselves. When this new generation of powerful voices
reminded the world that black lives matter, it was yet again Baba Dick Gregory who stood
by them and spoke truth to power, whether you liked him or not. We know that Dick Gregory was a comedian,
an intellectual, and we know that he was funny. But what was so extraordinary about him is
his willingness to share a story, but not just any story, an engaging story that informs,
entertains and empowers his listeners. It was his ability to criticize us because
he loved us. And like my father, he saw himself in us,
misinformed and miseducated. And so, shortly after my mother passed away
in 1997, my sisters and I attended a gathering with distinctive African-American leaders,
Maya Angelou, Aunt Coretta, Dick Gregory amongst them. And I was sitting quiet, and Dick Gregory
came over to me and started talking. He said, “Ilyasah, have I ever told you about
my magic glasses?” He said, “One day I was just walking in the
forest, minding my own goddamn business, and I saw something glistening in the grass. So I bent down to get a closer look, and it
looked like magic. It was a pair of glasses that illuminated
light. But before I could touch these eyeglasses,”
he said, “a spirit surrounded me. And the spirit said, ‘Dick, don’t pick up
those glasses, because if you do, you’ll see images that will consume you, pains and
injustices your stomach will not contain. Your heart will pound through your head, and
there will be no turning back. Criminal sins of injustice committed against
humanity.’ It said, ‘Looking through these glasses will
change the course of your career and require you to act and share the gospel.'” Dick Gregory explained that meeting my father
acted as a lens, which identified what he could do in this quest. You see, before Malcolm’s life was taken
from us, he said, at the heart of our plight was not race, but economic injustice. And Dick Gregory said, “We must ensure the
economic system is just and fair, or the masses of our people will continue to remain trapped
and lingering on the periphery of economic justice and opportunity.” ANNOUNCER: The inimitable Congresswoman Maxine
Waters. REP. MAXINE WATERS: We’re all here to celebrate
Dick’s life and to pay tribute to his extraordinary contributions, not only to his family and
his friends, but to our society, to this country, to the world. And today, you have all heard over and over
again about all of his tremendous and awesome talent. You’ve heard about his genius. You’ve heard, of course, and you know about
his civil rights advocacy, his politics, his humor, his wisdom, vision and uncanny ability
to dissect personalities, events, national and international problems and occurrences. I have sat with Dick for hours, and he would
come with stacks of newspapers from all over the world. And we would talk—no, he would talk, and
I would listen. And he would explain to me what was really
going on in the world, in his own fashion. And he taught me to look twice at people. He taught me to pay attention, because he
said, “You can’t always pay attention to what they say. It’s what they do.” And so, I listened, I paid attention. And because of that, it has brought me to
a time and place in my life where I’ve taken off the gloves. I’ve decided that I have no fear. I’ve decided that I don’t want to be safe. I’m not looking for who likes me and who
does not like me. It’s time for all of us to walk in the walk
of Dick Gregory. Did you like him? Did you love him? Did you care about him? If you liked him, if you loved him, if you
care about him, you’ve got to stop being weak. You’ve got to stop speaking that which you
don’t mean. You’ve got to stop skinning and grinning. It’s time to stand up and deal with the
problems of this country. AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Maxine Waters,
speaking Saturday at the City of Praise Family Ministries in Landover, Maryland, as she addressed
thousands, among so many others, at the celebration of the life of legendary comedian and human
rights activist Dick Gregory, who passed away on August 19th at the age of 84. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Among those who honored him, Stevie Wonder. [break] AMY GOODMAN: Stevie Wonder, singing at Dick
Gregory’s Celebration of Life last Saturday.

17 Replies to ““His Laughter was a Battle Cry”: Thousands Celebrate Comedian & Human Rights Legend Dick Gregory”

  1. Real activism. Using his name and platform to help others…not just sticking to comedy as some feel other sports figures, actors, TV commentator, public figures should.

  2. Dick Gregory spoke to the people because he was of the people and could speak to their everyday struggle for freedom, justice, and equality

  3. The Congressional Black Caucus? 😒

    Dick Gregory didn't support the CBC's lack of involvement in black issues. They are political grandstanders. Set up to keep Blacks docile and content.

    R.I.Power Mr. Gregory✊

  4. Besides being a legendary Black power icon, if you want to know some of the bad things about him, there are some. For starters, he was a profound racist and a conspiracy nut, once claiming that whites perpetuate street violence in America in order to harvest the organs of black victims because black organs were considered stronger and therefore more valuable to sell on the black market. He was bad-tempered, rude and constantly undermined most people who disagreed with him on any issue. Often times, many of his sources were outdated or entirely false/conspiracies which he presented to most people as undeniable facts. Despite all that, he was still very lovable and made very interesting points about racism and its history, most importantly, he empowered black youth to think as individuals, to do their own research, etc. His comedy also held up with today's fashion, he was very much ahead of his time.

  5. Never heard of the man…..

    I can only hope to emulate him.

    This should be on every television channel in the US….why is it not?

  6. Byrd The Life & Tragic Death Of James Byrd Jr ft.Dick Gregory watch the award wining documentary film on youtube it's free world share his work

  7. MANY THANKS, IN 1978 I WAS NAIVE, I ENTERED POLITICS 2 YEARS AGO AT THE AGE OF 60 YEARS……..Many thank you's for educating me about DICK GREGORY….Of course I knew a little about him, mostly his comedien work…..so impressed he stood with Malcolm X, Medgar Evans and of course Luther-king when they were still ALIVE…Now listening to .MOVING SPEECHES FROM ALL the children who fathers (named above) who' FOUGHT & DIED FOR RIGHTS PEOPLE, LIKE ME………I'm ready to learn new stuff everyday……as seems it has taken nrly 400 years to get truth out….

  8. a true contributer
    his singular burden will have to be carried by many now
    be not vain
    be not afraid to feel the pain
    as the cause is just

  9. Thank you for NOT including the part of the Maxine Waters speech about impeaching Trump. She is beyond pathetic. She should walk the walk, like Gregory did by selling her 5-million dollar estate and donate the money to the poor starving people in her district.The nerve of her to take advantage of the death of Gregory to push her racist, George Soros paid-for agenda.

  10. Mr. Gregory is a great loss to the United States and to the world. But in the United States few white people will understand this. Because in the United States he was not white.
    I for one will certainly miss him and his insight.

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