Black in the Day…No Laughing Matter
October 12, 1932:
On this day, one of the greatest comedians and activists were born. Dick Gregory was a pioneering comedian and civil rights activist who took on race with layered, nuanced humor during the turbulent 1960s.
Richard Claxton Gregory (October 12, 1932 – August 19, 2017) was an American comedian, civil rights activist, social critic, writer, conspiracy theorist, entrepreneur, and occasional actor. During the turbulent 1960s, Gregory became a pioneer in stand-up comedy for his “no-holds-barred” sets, in which he mocked bigotry and racism. He performed primarily to black audiences at segregated clubs until 1961, when he became the first black comedian to successfully cross over to white audiences, appearing on television and putting out comedy record albums. By 1963, he had participated in multiple demonstrations and had been arrested for civil disobedience several times. Gregory was at the forefront of political activism in the 1960s, when he protested the Vietnam War and racial injustice. He was arrested multiple times and went on many hunger strikes. He later became a speaker and author, primarily promoting spirituality. Eventually, in the mid-1960s, Dick Gregory left his comedy in the past to pursue his political interests such as running for mayor of Chicago in 1966 and president of the U.S. in 1968 and leading him to expand his interests from race relations to violence, world hunger, and poor health care. Building the Dick Gregory Health Enterprises Inc. in 1984 which helped him target the lower life expectancy of black Americans, which he blamed on poor nutrition and drug and alcohol.
Overall Dick Gregory was and is a powerful name in the realm of comedy and activism, having fused his two passions to forward important civil rights and social movements over the duration of his life.Gregory died of heart failure at a Washington, D.C., hospital at age 84 in August 2017.