HOUSTON – Dick Gregory has never been one to bite his tongue when it comes to speaking truth. The legendary humorist, civil rights icon, social activist, holistic health proponent, bestselling author and cultural commentator was welcomed with open arms to Houston on Oct. 18 and didn’t disappoint.
“If this country is to be saved, it will be saved by Black folks,” he told the packed audience at the Shrine of the Black Madonna. “Stop judging by your ignorance and start judging by truth!”
“This country would be nothing without us who built it. But they keep telling you about us just being some thug or athlete. See, they know who you really are and happy you don’t know who you are. You love those who hate us.”
“White ain’t a color, it’s an attitude,” he said. “In America, they use us and then blame us for their filth.”
He addressed the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, racism, President Obama, issues facing the Black community, foreign affairs, Donald Sterling, Michael Vick, family life, media and the greatness of Black people dating back to the building of pyramids.
“You can’t get no lower than stealing me from the Mother Land,” he said regarding slavery. “The White man thought he just stole a worker, when he stole a scientist! We built pyramids and this country.”
“Cops killing us every other day! America is the most degenerate, filthy nation, but you don’t smell because you’re co-existing with it.”
As expected, Gregory delivered comedy to go along with the hard truths.
“Why would you Black folks be ashamed to eat watermelon? White folks didn’t invent watermelon, except the ones that are seedless,” he said as the crowd laughed. “If I was President, I would not be like Obama. I would dig up that rose garden and plant watermelon!”
“And why are we still thinking God is in the business of making good hair and bad hair? What kind of fool are you?”
Durce Muhammad served as moderator for this historic conversation hosted Mike Clark & Ali Muhammad Productions (MCAMP). MCAMP full service promotional company that focuses on providing dynamic speakers and presentations that enlighten, encourage and empower all those who attend. Past presenters that MCAMP have had include: Dr. Francis Cress Welsing, Dr. Umar Johnson, Professor Griff and other scholars of cultural significance.
Gregory would not let up on letting the audience know how great they are despite the stigmas being placed on Black America. He delved into how everyone went through a hostile environment as a sperm, which is a sign that one can conquer anything.
“Children don’t come from you, they come through you,” he said. “The good thing about growing up in a fatherless home, I didn’t have two people messing my mind up.”
He also applauded his wife who has been by his side for over 50 years. “My wife didn’t fall in love with me after I became famous. My wife was in love with me when I was making five dollars a night.”
“He was comically amazing. It was very informative,” said Texas Southern University student Andreau Berry, who was hearing him speak for the first time.
A Historical Look Gregory’s Life
According to his official website, Dick Gregory entered the national comedy scene in 1961 when Chicago’s Playboy Club (as a direct request from publisher Hugh Hefner) booked him as a replacement for White comedian, “Professor” Irwin Corey. Until then Gregory had worked mostly at small clubs with predominantly Black audiences (he met his wife, Lillian Smith, at one such club). Such clubs paid comedians an average of five dollars per night; thus Gregory also held a day job as a postal employee. His tenure as a replacement for Corey was so successful — at one performance he won over an audience that included southern White convention goers — that the Playboy Club offered him a contract extension from several weeks to three years. By 1962 Gregory had become a nationally known headline performer, selling out nightclubs, making numerous national television appearances, and recording popular comedy albums.
It’s important to note that no biography of Gregory would be complete without mentioning that he and his beloved wife, Lil, had ten kids who have become highly respected members of the national community in a variety of fields. They are: Michele, Lynne, Pamela, Paula, Stephanie (aka Xenobia), Gregory, Christian, Miss, Ayanna and Yohance. The Gregory’s had one child who died at birth but they have shared 49 years of historic moments, selfless dedication and tremendous personal love.
Gregory began performing comedy in the mid-1950s while serving in the army.
Drafted in 1954 while attending Southern Illinois University at Carbondale on a track scholarship, Gregory briefly returned to the university after his discharge in 1956, but left without a degree because he felt that the university “didn’t want me to study, they wanted me to run.” In the hopes of performing comedy professionally, he moved to Chicago, where he became part of a new generation of Black comedians that included Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby, and Godfrey Cambridge. These comedians broke with the minstrel tradition, which presented stereotypical Black characters. Gregory, whose style was detached, ironic, and satirical, came to be called the “Black Mort Sahl” after the popular White social satirist. Friends of Gregory have always referred to Mort Sahl as the “White Dick Gregory.” Gregory drew on current events, especially the racial issues, for much of his material: “Segregation is not all bad. Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?”
From an early age, Gregory demonstrated a strong sense of social justice. While a student at Sumner High School in St. Louis he led a March protesting segregated schools. Later, inspired by the work of leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Gregory took part in the Civil Rights Movement and used his celebrity status to draw attention to such issues as segregation and disfranchisement. When local Mississippi governments stopped distributing Federal food surpluses to poor blacks in areas where SNCC was encouraging voter registration, Gregory chartered a plane to bring in several tons of food. He participated in SNCC’s voter registration drives and sit-ins to protest segregation, most notably at a restaurant franchise in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Only later did Gregory disclose that he held stock in the chain.
Gregory’s autobiography, Nigger, was published in 1963 prior to The assassination of President Kennedy, and became the number one best-selling book in America. Over the decades it has sold in excess of seven million copies. His choice for the title was explained in the forward, where Dick Gregory wrote a note to his mother.
“Whenever you hear the word ‘Nigger’,” he said, “you’ll know their advertising my book.”
Through the 1960s, Gregory spent more time on social issues and less time on performing. He participated in marches and parades to support a range of causes, including opposition to the Vietnam War, fasted and prayed in an effort to urge the Ayatollah Khomeini to release American embassy staff who had been taken hostage. The Iranian refusal to release the hostages did not decrease the depth of Gregory’s commitment; he weighed only 97 lbs when he left Iran.
In 2001, Gregory announced to the world that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of Cancer. He refused traditional medical treatment – chemotherapy –and with the assistance of some of the finest minds in alternative medicine, put together a regimen of a variety of diet, vitamins, exercise, and modern devices not even known to the public, which ultimately resulted in his reversing the trend of the Cancer to the point where today he is 100% Cancer free.
“82 percent prostate cancer deaths are Black men, and that doesn’t bother you?” he asked the audience at the Shrine of the Black Madonna event.
Gregory’s going public with his diagnosis has helped millions of his fans around the world to understand what Cancer specialists have been trying to explain for decades, which is that “Cancer is curable.”
Gregory was honored recently at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., by a sold out house and a tribute hosted by Bill Cosby, with special tributes by Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr., Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Cicely Tyson, Mark Lane, Marion Barry and many more.
His most recent book, Callus On My Soul, (Longstreet Press, Atlanta, Ga.) which became a best-seller within weeks of publication, is an autobiography that updates his earlier autobiography (Nigger), because as Dick says, “I’ve lived long enough to need two autobiographies which is fine with me. I’m looking forward to writing the third and fourth volumes as well.”