Dick Gregory: Groundbreaking Comedian, Courageous Activist, and Target of FBI Assassination Plot

August 23, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Dick Gregory, a ground-breaking comedian, public intellectual, and courageous activist died on August 19, 2017 at the age of 84, after a lifetime of fighting against injustice.

When a journalist asked Dick Gregory, not that many years ago, why he still felt the need to perform, speak to the media and protest, Gregory said, “They always ask me why I travel so much and I tell ‘em, the fight for freedom is out there—it ain’t at my house.”

In the 1960s, Dick Gregory broke new ground in comedy. He went after things that were real and very controversial about the situation of Black people. He drew humor out of what Black people have gone through, and mixed in biting exposure. Many times, he went beyond where his audience was at, or ready to go, but audiences, white and Black, hung with him. He become very influential.

Author Mel Watkins wrote: “Dick Gregory emerged at a time not only when the distance between comedians and audiences was being erased but also when the established public barriers between whites and blacks were being challenged at lunch counters and flaunted through integrated freedom rides... The sham was over—both in the streets and on stage. And Gregory, more a candid satirist than an entertaining funnyman, appeared at exactly the fight time.” (On the Real Side)

In the early 1960s Gregory, became friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Civil rights leader Medgar Evers invited him to speak at a voter registration rally in Jackson, Mississippi at a time when people were being killed for fighting for the right to vote. Dick Gregory marched in Selma and fought Jim Crow, going up against police dogs, billy clubs, fire hoses and jail. He was shot during the 1965 Watts Rebellion and that same year, spoke at one of the first major teach-ins on the Vietnam War at University of California, Berkeley.

Dick Gregory was a target of FBI and police surveillance. In 1968, he ran as a write-in presidential candidate—saying if he won, the first thing he’d do was paint the White house black and then he’d bring all the soldiers back from Vietnam. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered Gregory such a threat that he wrote a memo to the Chicago FBI office saying, “sophisticated, completely untraceable means of neutralizing Gregory should be developed,” including getting help from the Mafia.

Dick Gregory went on many hunger strikes for justice—in solidarity with Native Americans, against school segregation, against the Vietnam War, just to name a few. And he saw his struggle for freedom on a world scale—going to Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis, Northern Ireland in support of the IRA hunger strikers, and Ethiopia many times to speak out against hunger.

Gregory was especially present in the fight against police murder and brutality. In 2014, he went to Ferguson to join the protesters against the police shooting of Michael Brown. There, he told Revolution, “This went all over the world... and that’s why the president had to send some people in, he’s been embarrassed all over the world. And that’s what the young white kids did in the 60s at the Democratic National Convention—‘The whole world’s watching, the whole world’s watching.’ And what you see out here is joy.”

Dick Gregory had a wide-ranging set of interests, insights, and opinions—some on target, others not—and he promoted some views that led people away from confronting the real sources of oppression. But he never made peace with the system and fought his whole life for justice and freedom for the people.




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