August 20, 2017
Obituary – In Remembrance
Photo: by Slowking4
Civil rights activist and comedy legend Dick Gregory died Saturday night in Washington, D.C. He was 84 years old. Gregory began performing comedy in Chicago in the 1950s and gained prominence, not only for his cutting satire, but also for his role as a civil rights activist in the 1960s. Gregory began making inroads in the Civil Rights Movement during his early career as a comedian. As one of the earliest African American comedians to reach a white audience, he became a presence on late night shows, helping to progress visibility for African American comedians. In 1961, he famously declined an invitation to perform on The Tonight Show with Jack Parr on the grounds that he was invited only to perform and not granted an interview with the host. The show eventually relented, and Gregory became the first African American performer to interview with Parr on air.
Gregory was active with the Civil Rights Movement in the South. In 1963, he was an aid with Freedom Day in Selma, Alabama, a massive voting registration drive for African Americans in the city. He marched in Selma in 1965 and was present during the Watts uprising the same year. His activism spanned a range of issues from civil rights, to Vietnam, to drugs. He often used hunger strikes as a means of protest. In 1980, he staged a hunger strike in Iran to protest the holding of American hostages by the Iranian government.
In 1967, he ran for mayor of Chicago against Richard Daley. Gregory followed up this bid the next year by running for president as a member of the Freedom and Peace Party. He was a write-in candidate, but managed to gain support from figures such as Hunter S. Thompson and Benjamin Spock. While his campaign was unsuccessful, he was able to gain over 47,000 votes as a write-in candidate.
During the late 1970s, Gregory was involved with the Feminist Movement, and marched with women suffragists down Pennsylvania Avenue on Women’s Equality Day. This march successfully called for an extension of the ratification date for the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1982, Gregory was present with other feminists at Pro-ERA rallies, despite the act failing to pass.
Gregory became a noted health food expert in the 1980s. During the 60s, he became a vegetarian and began advocating for a diet based on vegetables and fruits. In 2003, he also worked with PETA.
Gregory was a committed activist his entire life. His restlessness and consciousness led him to advocate for a variety of causes, throughout his life until death. Just less than a month ago, he penned an essay on how to fight police brutality. The essay, which appeared in Variety, condemns the omnipresent reality of police brutality for African American communities.
Dick Gregory was a critical voice in American satire and activism. With his death at age 84, the country has lost a towering comedian and humanitarian.