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Wed, 10.12.1932

Dick Gregory, funny, blunt civil rights advocate

Dick Gregory

Dick Gregory was born on this date in 1932. He is an African American comedian and activist.

Richard Claxton Gregory was born in St. Louis. Reared in poverty, he began working at an early age to help support his family. He was involved in sports and social causes in high school, and he entered Southern Illinois University on an athletic scholarship in 1951, standing out as a middle-distance runner. He was named the university's outstanding student athlete in 1953, the same year he left college to join the U.S. Army, where he hosted and performed comedy routines in military shows. Gregory began his professional career in 1958 as a master of ceremonies at several Chicago nightclubs.

He achieved national recognition following his debut at the Playboy Club in Chicago in 1961. The one-nighter turned into a six-week stint that earned him a profile in Time magazine and a television appearance on the Tonight Show hosted by Jack Paar. In his numerous succeeding television, nightclub, and concert routines, he targeted poverty, segregation, and racial discrimination. He gained fame as a comedian for his satirical views on American racial attitudes.

Active in the civil rights movement, he came to Selma, Alabama and spoke for two hours on a public platform two days before the voter registration drive known as "Freedom Day" (October 7, 1963)

Gregory began his political career by running for mayor of Chicago in 1967 against Richard J. Daley. Gregory ran for President of the United States in 1968 as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party.

Gregory wrote several books of racial humor; the first was "From the Back of the Bus" (1962). Gregory shocked the country by titling his second book, an autobiography, "NIGGER!" (1964). He described his humble beginnings, and the racism he experienced at Southern Illinois University in the 1950s.

Gregory was arrested for Civil Disorder during a 1963 civil rights demonstration in Birmingham. He was also an outspoken critic of American involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1968, he believed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation played a role in the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Gregory study with Mark Lane resulted in his book "Code Name Zorro" (1978). A congressional investigation disagreed with his theory. He became a candidate for president in 1968 as a write-in, which he wrote about in "Write Me In" (1968). There was also "No More Lies: The Myth and the Reality of American History" (1971).

In the early 1970s Gregory abandoned comedy to focus on his political interests, which widened from race relations to violence, world hunger, capital punishment, drug abuse, and poor health care. He generated particular attention for his more than a hundred hunger fasts. It was at this time that he became a vegetarian, a marathon runner, and an expert on nutrition. In the 1980s, he began a successful business venture with his nutritional product, the "Bahamian Diet," around which he built Dick Gregory Health Enterprises, Inc. Through his company, he targeted the lower life expectancy of Black Americans, which he attributed to poor nutrition and drug and alcohol abuse.

Now, Gregory is fighting cancer. Southern Illinois University inducted him into its Athletic Hall of Fame recently. Then there was a tribute to Gregory in the nation's capital on October 9, at the Kennedy Center, hosted by the National Council of Negro Women.

At a Civil Rights rally marking the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Gregory called the United States, "the most dishonest, ungodly, nonspirituals nation that ever existed in the history of the planet. As we talk now, America is 5 percent of the world's population and consumes 96 percent of the world's hard drugs."

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