Dick Gregory was born October 12, 1932 in St. Louis, Mo and was well known for his comedy as well as his political and social commentary. Gregory’s life is a testament of the importance in using politically infused comedy as tools in the struggle for Black liberation in America.
In the 1950’s while in college on a track scholarship, Gregory was drafted into the war. After returning a few years later, he moved to Chicago in hopes of becoming a successful comic. Notable comics around at the time were people like Bill Cosby and Nipsey Russle.
In 1961, Gregory became the first Black man to do stand-up comedy in a white club, when he was booked as a replacement for Hugh Hefner’s Comedy Club in Chicago.
Gregory was already well-known in the Black clubs for his comedy, which centered heavily around current events and racial issues such as segregation.
Gregory soon won over these white audiences which helped to propel Gregory into the mainstream. He began to headline and sell out shows as well as record comedy albums.
Gregory also aligned himself with powerful Black leaders at the time such as Martin Luther King. Within Gregory’s rise, he always used his stature as a way to bring attention to African-American’s civil rights struggle that was happening in the 1960’s.
Gregory soon landed on the radar of J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was the infamous first director of the FBI, who made it his goal and duty to “stop the rise of a Black messiah that could unify the people.”
According to FBI memo’s released after Hoover’s death, messages were sent to Chicago’s FBI headquarters in 1968, detailing ways to neutralize Gregory by alerting the Mafia that he was mentioning them in his comedy routines.
It does not appear that anything substantial came from the memo’s and Hoover died a few years after they were sent to Chicago. The memo’s themselves however, are just a reminder and proof of the political and social mindset of people who run certain fractions of government in this country and how they scheme on ways to negatively shape our experiences as Black people.
One of the things that I admire most about Gregory, is his fearlessness and boldness when presenting and analyzing America’s atrocities and contradictions. I appreciate his ability to take the framework of certain atrocities and turn them into genius material. Whether it be his comedy, or his books.
In 1963, Gregory published his 1st autobiography entitled Nigger. “When you hear the word, know they are advertising my book,” he writes to his mother in the forward.
Gregory had cancer and went public with his diagnosis in 2001. He declined chemotherapy and worked with a team to develop a diet and to seek other methods of curing his cancer. His cancer journey is a testament that cancer is curable.
Gregory has a wife, Lillian Smith, with whom he has been married to for over 48 years. They have ten children together.
Rest in peace and power Dick Gregory, your memory lives on forever.