Dick Gregory Was a Sledgehammer of Truth

Aug 22, 2017 · 129 comments
John Smith (NY)
I saw Dick Gregory as a college freshman in the early 70s. Dropping a little acid, puffing out my Afro I was definitely not the White kid that started a YAF club at one of the specialized NYC High Schools just two years earlier.
Mr. Gregory blew my mind. And when he ended his appearance by indicating that he would be running from the Campus to the Midtown Tunnel at Midnight I decided to run with him and the schools track team despite not having run in years. Of course I quit roughly a mile into the run and walked back alone but to this day I cherish the memory of hearing him speak the truth and seeing him bring people together. He is missed.
Blessinggirl (Durham NC)
Roy, I am older than you, and Dick Gregory is a genius comic and civil rights leader. He paved the way for you and Trevor Noah. He also paved the way for comics who choose salacious silliness. You are brilliant, and you will carry on his gift of commitment.
Boregard (Nyc)
He tells a joke about two white men coming up to him in a restaurant. He's about to cut into some chicken. They tell him, they're going to do to him, what he's gonna do to the chicken. He puts the knife and fork down, picks up the chicken and kisses it. Classic!

He was The Man. Went a little off there, with too many conspiracy theories, but otherwise he had that surgical steel edged gift of a talented comic observer on life.

When I was a kid, he was on the pedestal with Red Foxx, Pryor, Mort Sahl, etc.
allen (san diego)
roy, i have enjoyed your comedy on the trevor n. show and you are carrying the torch well.
Joe DiMiceli (San Angelo, TX)
I had the privilege one night as an undergraduate in Manhattan (The New School) to see Mr. Gregory perform. I remember, in part, one joke he told that was typical of his style. He said that he had inherited $5,000 from his recently deceased grandfather. He tried to buy a house, but they said they didn't want my money. He tried to enroll his son in a private school, but they said they didn't want my money. and so on until the punch line, "but you can bet the farm that for $5,000, GM will sell me a purple Cadillac." Thank you Mr. Gregory.
Lester Arditty (New York City)
I was at an event at Queens College's Colden Auditorium in the late '60's where Dick Gregory was the guest speaker. It was a political rally during the time of the New York City Teacher's Strike over decentralization. There was a lot of controversy over this subject & the community school boards.
On one hand the Teacher's Union (United Federation of Teachers) was against both decentralization & the local school boards. On the other, were community activists from "inner city" school districts who wanted greater control over how their children were taught & school busing of children from minority communities to schools in white neighborhoods!
Against this backdrop, there was ethnic hostility between the Black & Jewish communities because Black communities wanted greater diversity among the teachers in their communities; while the UFT had a large percentage of Jewish members.
There was a lot of tension in the air before the start of the program. Dick Gregory immediately launched into the controversy. I, being Jewish felt uncomfortable at first as a lot of hostility from the largely Black audience of high school & college students who were supporting the community school boards (even though I supported them as well).
Mr. Gregory seized upon the crux of the matter, exposing all of the pent up emotions surrounding the subject & while not offering specific solutions, helped all who attended to understand the importance working together & respecting each other.
Thank you Mr. Gregory.
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, Gregory was one of the constant and consistently engaging performers seeking to shake up America. I'm not sure why he vanished as a media darling because it appears he stayed as active as ever.
The hunger strikes must've taken a lot out of him, but he certainly lived a long, productive life.
Kind of threw me when I heard he had 10 kids, though. Bit of an environmental ouch.
dan anderson (Atlanta)
In my youth, far removed from any southern association, I read a book of him, or about him, or by him (think this); basic white teenager reading a book, nothing special who was reading it, knew nothing of racism, and I thought, Wow, this guy is special. I may not have always agreed with him, but he should be honored.
susan (nyc)
I was five years old when Dick Gregory was performing his comedy. Over the years I've seen clips of his work and gained a great appreciation for it. He pulled no punches. And as for you, Roy Wood Jr., I watch The Daily Show every night and you are one of the funniest guys I have ever seen on television. When Trevor Noah "announces" you I know I'm in for a lot of laughs. Keep it up and tell Trevor I love his dimples (;.
David Dyer (New York)
Thank you, Roy, for addressing so eloquently the effect Dick Gregory had on you. While not a comedian, he made similar impressions on me when I discovered him as a young teenager; I even managed to pick up a few bootleg tapes of some performances in the seventies. Hope you mentioned him on the show!
William Madison (Sacramento, CA)
I first heard of Dick Gregory in St. Louis in the 1960s as a youngster. My mother worked as a counselor at the same high school (Soldan High) where his brother Ron was her co-worker (and track coach). Mom had some of his records (I was to young to go to the clubs when he appeared there), and my friends and I used to sneak them out and listen to the "blue" humor and truths he shared. I think that's when I first realized that humor is only truly effective (i.e., funny) when it is founded in truth. We lived a lot of his truths, and maybe it was those experiences that allowed us the freedom to laugh along with him in his humor. He was cutting edge. He was honest. He was a truth teller. He was a teacher. We lost a great human being and humanitarian. Amen to your comments, Mr. Wood, Amen.
Kimberly S (Los Angeles)
I had the privilege to see Dick Gregory at the Improv in Los Angeles recently.
The audience was diverse and reverential....I found myself agreeing with everything he said.....speaking truth to power......R.I.P.
mjb (Tucson)
So glad there is finally an opportunity to write a comment about this great man. A genius, courageous, truthtelling, soulful, hero.

I can't think of many people who I would truly look to as role models, but he is one. Humor unmasks EVERYTHING. Bless him, dear Lord.
BW (San Diego)
Brilliant, heartfelt and poignant writing Mr. Wood. Thank you for this tribute to a remarkable and unique American icon.
JessiePearl (Tennessee)
At times it's appropriate to ask yourself. "What would Dick Gregory do?" Keep his light shining...Rest in Peace Mr. Gregory.
EarthCitizen (Earth)
I was waiting to read a memorial about Dick Gregory. Thank you for this belated article, NYT. Thank you, Mr. Gregory, for your heroism and your humor. R.I.P.
Paul (Bellerose Terrace)
Roy, I love your work on the Daily Show. You have the potential to make yourself the next Dick Gregory. I think you are on your way there. Good luck achieving that.
MA (Brooklyn, NY)
Far from a "Sledgehammer of Truth", Gregory bought into every dumb conspiracy theory, hook, line, and sinker. He was a 9/11 truther, and he believed the moon landing was fake.
He believed the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby were a conspiracy by the entertainment industry, and the women making those accusations were lying.
Prince was murdered, AIDS was invented by the US government, GMOs are bad for you, Michael Jackson was of course railroaded. No, he had a very loose association with "truth".
Michele Rhodes (Washington, DC)
So he was not a perfect human being. His comedy is still worthy of our respect. I don't get his defense of Cosby, except if Cosby was my personal friend, I would probably defend him as well.
oldschoolfool (Tampa, FL)
One of Gregory's most memorable jokes that was true political commentary was the one he told in the 1960s about the difference between segregation in the North and South: "In the South, they don't care how close you get as long as you don't get too big. In the North, they don't care how big you get as long as you don't get too close."
ohreally? (Boston, MA)
Comedians are often a society's most dangerous people. Court jesters in medieval time knew this. In olden days, a joke too far meant "off with his head." Today, it means removal from prime time, major audiences. The best comedians--and Mr. Gregory was a great one--skewer the powers that be and get the people to think. When the people begin to think, things can change.

We need more comedians like Mr. Gregory and Mr. Wood to keep the pressure on, using humor to reach both the heart and the head. Politicians, pundits, and activists should remember the old saw "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Part of Mr. Trump's success (and Bill Clinton's for that matter) is his ability to leave the crowd laughing, or at least put a smile on their faces while making political points.

In his lifetime Mr. Gregory influenced a lot of people to take action, no matter how small and personal, to create a mighty river thundering toward justice. RIP Dick Gregory. Well done.

The work continues. Jokes and jokers for justice.
Adirondax (Expat Ontario)
Saw Dick Gregory perform at Franklin & Marshall College in the late 60's/ early 70's. Funniest man I've ever heard.

There was an unmistakable aura of grace about the man. A power that was not to be denied.

He was a prince among us.
Michael Engel (Ludlow MA)
I'm proud to say that in 1968 I cast my first presidential ballot--a military absentee ballot from Germany--for Dick Gregory on the Peace and Freedom ticket in New York. You were a great man....
Arthur Lundquist (New York, NY)
Thanks for the heart-felt tribute, Mr. Wood. I only wish that after I'd been drawn to read this piece by its title, that I'd learned a little more about Mr. Gregory.
Joe Ritchie (Hong Kong)
Terrific insight, Roy Wood Jr. Proud to say I once stood before you in a classroom and tried to teach something. You apparently learned much more than I ever could have taught; this insight came from within. Very powerful.
Bob (East Lansing)
I was probably about 15 when in 1972 I picked up a copy of Dick Gregory's autobiography at my library. As a white kid in a white neighborhood I didn't know any black people. That book was my AHA moment. I had no idea what life was like on the other side. Thank you Mr Gregory
Nathan Long (Philadelphia)
Dick Gregory spoke at my college in 1989 and I was outraged: he told the majority Black audience not to use condoms against HIV because the government was going to infect them regardless and would put the virus in the condoms. In my opinion, he took a sledgehammer to truth and to Black youth's lives.
Felix Braendel (San Rafael)
He got a lot right. Best to admit he also got a lot wrong.
Odehyah (Brooklyn, NY)
Dick Gregory was one of the all time "bold voices" of the century. He was not only courageous to speak so confidently in an era when Blacks were still being lynched and spat upon, but he was ingenious to prescribe telling lessons to Blacks in the struggle for not only equality but in recognizing self worth and dignity. He was a leader in the struggle for equality in every sense of the word. He was also a genuinely kind and loving individual. I got a chance, years ago, to hang out with him for a day in LA and will never forget his gentlemanly demeanor.
BZM (St Croix)
In the early 1980s I was the federal prosecutor in the courtroom when Dick Gregory and his son were being arraigned for "failing to obey a lawful order" in not removing themselves from the lawn outside the South African Embassy where they were participating in a prayer vigil for the ending of apartheid. The presiding magistrate was reluctant to grant bond in the case in that the two men were from New York and had no ties to the community sufficient to expect them to return for further proceedings in the matter. I assured the magistrate that the Gregory father and son welcomed the arrest and the opportunity to focus attention on the institution that closely reflected our own historical original sin and that the two of them would be more likely to appear at further proceedings than the magistrate himself. I also pointed out that even a very short visit to the DC jail could prove disastrous to the younger Gregory.
Daddy Gregory's smile and subtle nod will stay with me forever.
BZM (St Croix)
Gregory once announced that his commitment to non-violence was so complete that when he went fishing he would use a rubber hook
CBT (St. Paul, MN)
Like so many here, I first heard Dick Gregory speak when I was at college. It was 1974, I was a freshman, and he spoke at a small, Lutheran liberal arts college in the Upper Midwest. The theater was packed so I had to sit on the stage with about 25 others and at the end of his talk we were invited to go backstage with him. When I think now about Gregory being at that school, the student body of which was 95% white and overwhelmingly rural, I understand what he was trying to do. He was funny, yes, but his humor addressed issues of injustice, racism and inequality. As one of those white rural students, I was often uncomfortable. And I realized that's what he wanted.

His was a voice this country needed (and still needs) and he inspired so many others to continue his message. We are blessed because of his life.
Dennis S (Sedona AZ)
Mr. Gregory lectured sat my alma mater in Dec '67. While I missed the lecture due to workload, my Russian professor, originally from Ukraine, heard him speak. The following day our professor came into class, asked us how many of us had attended the Gregory lecture, and had we heard him say...: "The blacks in America today are being treated as badly as the Jews were, in the Third Reich of Hitler" - or, a quote along those lines.

Our professor proceeded to tell us, and now, in the time remaining in this class, I am going to tell you why Mr. Gregory was not correct.

Even if I did not agree with either person, it got me thinking quite differently ... as a white man, what was it like to be a black in America in 1967?

Perhaps that was the entire point of both Mr. Gregory's comments, and those of my Russian professor.
barbara (capistrano beach)
What a brilliant homage to Mr. Gregory.
Phil (Pennsylvania)
On 3 occasions, I had the privilege of listening to Dick Gregory speak. The first time, in the early 70s, the 2nd, in the mid 80s, and the 3rd, in the 90s.

One of his signature lines, at least in the last 2 presentations when something like this: "So, now we black Americans ought to be satisfied because United States is designated February, Black History Month. Big deal! They gave us a months worth of recognition for the shortest month of the year and the month with the worst, nastiest weather of the year."

He also wrote a terrific American history book that offered a very different portrait of our nations history. The book entitled, "No More Lies," reveals many of those truths he expounded so clearly in his comedy presentations. In fact, I assigned the book for classes I taught as a counterweight to the more traditional histories of the United States there are also part of the required reading. The parallel readings served as a strong reminder of the truism that history is interpretation, but must be evidence-based to be credible. Thank you Dick Gregory for giving us the opportunity to see that so clearly.
Margot LeRoy (Seattle Washington)
As someone who grew up white in St. Louis, I understood where Mr. Gregory culled his wisdom and insights into the challenges black Americans face every damn day. He carried the sickness of that racially , carefully divided city inside him...And made all of America look in that mirror......Wise, funny and very, very smart......Beautiful legacy......
Lorraine (NY)
Dick Gregory was also an active supporter of the feminist movement in the 70's. He believed all people deserved equality. He was correct that you can't stop the march towards equality because you've won a few battles. The work continues in every generation.
Eleanor (Aquitaine)
I am old enough to remember Dick Gregory early in his career. I'm glad he was able to keep on working for so many years. He had the truly amazing talent of being a very, very funny comedian and a very, very serious political commentator-- often in the same sentence.
Demolino (new Mexico)
I, too, saw him in college in the 1970s. Twice. Two years apart. He got a standing ovation both times. The first time, I'm sure I was the first one up. The second time, I stayed seated because he gave exactly the same performance--even though events had changed : we were out of Vietnam and Nixon was no longer President.
Also, both times he went on about how it was "no coincidence that we have 9 holes in our body and there are 9 planets."
OK, he wasn't an astronomer (or a golfer, apparently ).
But he was a decent guy in world where that quality is needed.
I agree with the reader who said he should get a statue.
ANetliner NetLiner (Washington, DC area)
This is a beautiful and hard-hitting tribute to Dick Gregory. Thank you, Mr. Wood.
Bill Wilkerson (Maine)
Mr. Gregory spoke in the student union of my small liberal arts college in 1969. Most of us knew who he was and what he stood for. It was crowded. The only place I could find a place to sit was on the stage right behind him.
The next day, on the front page of the largest newspaper in the state, there was the photo of Mr.Gregory and me!
Bob Laughlin (Denver)
R.I.P. Mr. Gregory...... You shall be missed.
Olenska (New England)
In the early '70s Dick Gregory spoke at the university I attended in corn country, Illinois. He was, characteristically, brilliant - a delivering a rapid-fire, hilarious critique, perfectly timed and punctuated by a shake of his head, and: "Whole world's gone crazy!"

Afterward, a few lucky students gathered backstage to talk - and listen - to him. One very young guy, who clearly had never heard anyone speak Dick Gregory's truths, asked him, incredulously: "Do really believe everything you said out there?" The rest of were mortified and smirking, but Gregory was gentle, sweet and kind. He quietly explained how he came to his beliefs, from his background and experiences in life. It was absolutely unforgettable - a graceful moment and a wonderful lesson.

These days, the term "social justice warrior" has sadly and inexplicably become a pejorative in some circles. To me, in its best sense, it's a descriptive that better fits Dick Gregory than "comedian." He was, and is, an inspiration.
JJ Flowers (Laguna Beach, CA)
Dick Gregory's life was well lived: deep, meaningful, full of purpose, and all the while funny as all get out.

One of my favorite quotes from him:
"Under the leadership of Dr. King, I became totally committed to nonviolence, and I was convinced that nonviolence meant opposition to killing in any form. I felt the commandment "Thou Shall Not Kill" applied to human beings not only in their dealings with each other but in their practice of killing animals for food or sport. Animals and humans suffer and die alike. Violence causes the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel, and brutal taking of life."

We love you Dick Gregory!
William Riley (Essex Junction, VT)
I was there when people took to the streets at the 1968 Democratic Convention the evening after Mayor Daley's Chicago police had brutalized demonstrators in Grant Park. The decision was made to march to the convention center. The police and the National Guard wanted none of it, and said that if the people proceeded past a certain street corner there would be hell to pay. Dick Gregory was there, bullhorn in hand, and proclaimed that the marchers were his friends and were in fact on their way to his house for dinner. Utterly brilliant!
Brendan (New York)
Dick Gregory was introduced to me by my Irish Catholic father from Butte MT. He was a civil rights activist and union man and he loved Gregory. And though I have only touched upon his comedy repertoire , this particular 4 minute excerpt has stayed with me for almost ten years now. When I sent it to my dad by email , he forwarded it to all of his political science colleagues. His one word response was 'Hallelujah!". Enjoy.
Tom (San Jose)
I share your background, though my dad wasn't so enlightened as yours. Thanks for this.

I'd also recommend people read his 1964 memoir, "N****r." I sat in high school English with this book hidden behind Silas Marner (I think that was what the rest of the class was reading) and had my eyes opened by Mr. Gregory. And as a track athlete myself, I have to say that Mr. Gregory brought the same passion and determination to life that he describes recounting running the quarter-mile (this is before metric races in the US, for you youngsters). That memoir is available, folks.
karendavidson61 (Arcata, CA)
You are doing a fine job ! I voted for Dick Gregory in 1968 because of his truth telling. I feel you often get it really right on the Daily Show and it is easy to see you are working hard to tell us what we need to hear. Sorry it is taking so long.......
Warren Parsons (Colorado)
I first saw Dick Gregory at Colorado State University in 1973 and it was an awakening. He really opened my eyes to the truth! My favorite quote, "When you wear the Magic Glasses, you see things as they are and not how they are supposed to be. You can never force someone else to wear them nor can you ever take them off." So sad that he has passed, we need his voice of truth now more than ever.
wwilson553 (New Jersey)
Dick Gregory spoke at my college in 1973 or 1974. After all these years, I can close my eyes and hear his voice. He was so impressive. You heard him speak and knew you were hearing the truth.
Jayme (DC)
Mr. Wood, I appreciate your article on Mr. Gregory. He was a hero and inspiration for many. However I sometimes cringe when Mr. Gregory is mentioned exclusively as a comedian, because he was much more than that. That title of "comedian" does not exclusively define Mr. Gregory and after reading this article, neither does it exclusively define you.
Dochoch (Murphysboro, Illinois)
Dick Gregory was a national treasure. Thank you for writing this.
Antonia (North Carolina)
In the mid sixties I heard Mr. Gregory speak at my small state college. I really did not know who he was but being a freshman I was required to attend. Mr. Gregory was so eloquent and inspirational. Being only 17 years old and not well informed about civil rights, I walked out of the auditorium wanting to learn more about the civil rights movement and how I could be part of the movement. Yes, he had humor in his speech but what he spoke about on that night opened my eyes to the injustice and suppression of African Americans that was happening in the country.
I can only say thank you Dick Gregory for making me the liberal and person that I am today. He truly was a great American hero.
CRP (Tampa, Fl)
I prefer to believe that it is an illusion that our country is going backwards.That this current stream of hate is coming from the lancing of the boil of poison that is hidden in our social blood stream. We need to focus on refining the truth of equality and freedom so that our voices have the ring of power that only comes from the heart. Comedy is the most important tone as it defines authenticity, We most go through this to survive. God bless, Dick Gregory and his lasting legacy.
Joy Stiffler (Indiana)
I pray you are right, but continue to have real doubts!!
Steve Legault (Seattle WA)
I pulled the book out of the shelf of the library in 1968 thinking my eyes were deceiving me and what a treasure I had found. Even during his weight loss days when medical friends of mine said uncharitable things about his methods I remembered the firm commitment to social change he represented. RIP Mr Gregory, your book is still remembered when the title is mentioned.
Robert (Edgewater, NJ)
Roy Wood Jr., you are a funny, funny man. And now I learn that you are an excellent writer who is able to give a hero his due. Thank you, father figure.
VJR (North America)
Thank you so much for this.
Unfortunately, the New York Times forgot (forgot?!) to add a Comments section for Dick Gregory's obituary. No such problem for Jerry Lewis and the subsequent "Appreciation" article. Jerry Lewis definitely deserved those things so I am not begrudging, but Dick Gregory deserved them too. He was instrumental in helping eliminate racism from many young white people including me. He deserves to be recognized as the hero he was.
Tom (San Jose)
I feel exactly the same way, so thank you for saying this.
ANetliner NetLiner (Washington, DC area)
Thank you for pointing this out.
M E R (New York, NY)
VJR - Obits never have a comments section, because not everyone is respectful. Tributes are another thing, so Im glad Mr Wood's article has one
Herb Bardavid (Great Neck, NY)
I saw Dick Gregory live for the first time in 1966, he appeared at a rally on Long Island, NY with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I got to say hello to both of them and to shake their hands. I consider that an honor.
Antonia (North Carolina)
How fortunate you were to shake their hands. I am envious
peter calahan (sarasota fl)
I still have my paperback copy of his best-known publication. His joke to his Mom about its title "...remember, they're advertising my book" was underlined by his later quote on NPR: using the substitute "N-word" is shrinking from the core of the issue. This was a man, funny & a little crazy, who I respected & shall never forget. Thanks, Mr Wood, for sharing your memories
silver bullet (Warrenton VA)
Dick Gregory had that rare ability to laugh at himself and make America laugh along with him during the '50s and '60s when the topic of race relations was perhaps the touchiest of subjects in a society when it was taboo to probe the dynamics of Jim Crow and separate-but-equal reality of American society. Yes, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor got the laughs and the attention but it was always Gregory who was on the front lines during the civil rights years, with his droll, searing wit to make himself, and everybody else, laugh to keep from crying.

Gregory had his own stumbles as an opponent of the war in Viet Nam and his his star began a slow but steady decline as a social activist, but in his time, Dick Gregory had the ability to tell it like it was, and a touchy black and white America admired him for his humor and his candor.
bill (Wisconsin)
True, war hawks are way funnier.
Maggie (NC)
Odd that in this country it has been comedians who've led us to progressive social change. From Will Rogers to Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Richard Prior, Jon Stewart to now Trevor Noah, they've had the courage to speak truth to power that most progressive politicians leave at home in the bedroom mirror. In the case of Dick Gregory it took particular courage and grace. He really made a difference. I don't think we're headed back to the pre civil rights days though. There's a real differenc this time. There's some kind of retrenchment going on before the next push forward, but if you go out into the street, the wide range of people who show up and link arms, sometimes just spontaneously, in great numbers to me it feels clear - we're just not going to have it.
Tom (San Jose)
I would add George Carlin and Lily Tomlin to your list.
Pat O'Hern (Atlanta)
He was a truly wonderful man. I saw him "in hilarious lecture" (as he called it) in 1966 at NYU in the Bronx, and to this day I have never heard a more poignant talk by anyone, comedian or otherwise. But he was not a comedian--he was a conscience, and he communicated that conscience both angrily and lovingly. RIP Dick Gregory. We will have you forever.
Barry Schreibman (Cazenovia, New York)
I liked Dick Gregory a lot, but I wonder if his 10 children did -- left essentially fatherless by Gregory's insistence on being constantly "out there." Since Gregory himself grew up fatherless, you've got to wonder what component of Gregory's activism was disinterested political commitment and what component was something else.
Antonia (North Carolina)
I am sure that his children are very proud of their father. He stood up for justice. His children are benefiting from it today. Too bad that Donald Trump is taking it away.
Tom (San Jose)
I'll take this up on its own terms. Very simply, there are things in this life that are more important than one's own family. Period. And I'd add that if you think that Mr. Gregory didn't care about his family, you don't know enough to comment, also period. Fighting for justice takes sacrifice, and to bring up Frederick Douglass, I hope I get this right - "power concedes nothing without a struggle."
Barry Schreibman (Cazenovia, New York)
OK. So I'll take you up on your own terms. "There are things in this life more important than one's own family." Don't you think that if you have a family of 10 kids, maybe the kids ought to have a voice in that -- a vote on how their Dad sets his priorities when the priorities he sets absents him from their lives? Or is it perfectly OK to keep having children, one after the other, with no intention of helping to raise them? "If you think Mr. Gregory didn't care about his family, you don't know enough to comment, also period." Yeah. I think Mr. Gregory didn't care about his family -- or at least didn't care enough -- based on the facts reported in this article and elsewhere. Why don't I know enough based on those facts but you do -- based on what, exactly? And BTW, asserting "period" after each of your arguments just shows you are too insecure about what you're arguing to entertain a reply.
Stephen Sherwood (Atlanta, GA)
Dick Gregory was a great American who merits a public statue.
bill (Wisconsin)
What luck! We just happen to have some empty pedestals here and there.
HFScott (FL)
I was also in college when I heard Dick Gregory speak. Among other matters, he discussed how Congress had just passed a 'compromise meat bill", and asked a simple question. "What kind of meat are you getting under a compromise meat bill?" I think of that question when Congress passes any "compromise" legislation.
Cary Appenzeller (Brooklyn, New York)
Dick Gregory

A Good Guy

daniel r potter (san jose california)
an english rock band the Animals had the sense to use with permission a few minutes of his routine explaining the cost of training pilots for the air force. funny sure but the truth. not at all comedy record per se but just a heads up for More Dick Gregory out there.
daniel r potter (san jose california)
Eric Burdon and the Animals. side 2 New York1963-America 1968
Long Memory (Tampa, FL)
This is a remarkable tribute to a fellow craftsman, but it is an even more remarkable tribute to a fellow human being. Dick Gregory, rest in peace.
C T (austria)
In America, with all of its evils and faults, you can still reach through the forest and see the sun. But we don't know yet whether that sun is rising or setting for our country.
Dick Gregory

As an American who lived through the horrors of the Civil Rights era, who lived by Newark and saw it burning, saw human beings chased by raging mad dogs and live bullets and fists with the blood of black men and women--this just 20 years after they gassed and burned millions of Jews along with others, I read my way through Baldwin, MLK, and all other black men and women of power and passion, with white people alongside them fighting for REAL FREEDOM and TRUTH. Well, now we do need the sledgehammer for the TRUTH and we need to look deeply in the mirror for the reflection of hatreds and evil that is and was present and the mass violence it always leads to.
I'm ashamed and my heart aches. Dick Gregory was my soul brother and truth doesn't need a sledgehammer when its truth--it can be whispered tenderly because its TRUTH! Why are we so slow and too stupid to learn this? Obama was grace, light, truth, and his smile could light the entire world and he lit my world daily. He's my soul brother and inspiration. I miss him daily. I will miss Dick, too. Our sun is setting in our country. It went down (dark, dark) on Nov 8th and it keeps getting more evil by the day. Since I do Holocaust research here I know what evil injustice truly is and I invite any Nazi to tour its horrors with me.
Joy Stiffler (Indiana)
While he (Obama) exuded grace did wonderful things, he did make /continue and try to be tougher than Bush the younger, that did not consider the humanity of all of us. Using drones that kill too many people. Being tougher on illegal immigrants by a significant increase in arrests, and filling for profit prisons with too many. This was awful in my opinion. His speaking skills leave us longing for him, but there were shortcomings.
Peter R (Cresskill, NJ)
The youngest child of five growing up here in suburbia, my household had a social consciousness in the 60s that is something I'm so grateful for. My widowed mother raised our family to listen to everyone, to feel and hear beyond the neighborhood. That led to my oldest sisters getting on board the civil rights movement of the 60s. People like Dick Gregory were part of my world back then. While I certainly didn't live the struggle, his words taught me quickly as a young kid that there was an awfully big one going on for a long time. As men like Martin Luther King stepped up I knew that men like Dick Gregory were right next to him. Dick Gregory was not just a comedian or social activist. He was a truth teller when America had to start listening to the truth. Dick Gregory could walk the walk because he did talk the talk.
Steve VDL (Wisconsin)
You might not be Dick Gregory, but you aint bad. I think this is good writing and I think the other stuff yours I have seen is also good.
manfred marcus (Bolivia)
Thank you for sharing Dick Gregory's zest for life, and for honoring what seems like a 'renaissance' man. I look forward to learning more about this giant among ordinary folks, transcending himself into a mentor teaching the truth and it's beauty, and seeking justice for those in want...in our upside-down world. Although technologically 'advanced', our souls remain so full of ignorance and prejudice, and fear of the unknown, and hate, and division, especially now that we have a vulgar bully at the helm, intent in normalizing bigotry and ethnic discrimination as a matter of course.
Melpub (Germany and NYC)
The gentle gravitas of Dick Gregory did much for civil rights.
Jacob Sommer (Medford, MA)
Dick Gregory was very good at making a body look up and take notice. I only ever saw him on TV, but he was very insightful. I will miss him.

Roy, I always enjoy your pieces on TDS. Your style isn't the same as Dick's, but don't sell yourself short on insight. A team show isn't the same as a one-man act, no, but I know you and your co-workers have a strong sense of social justice, a strong sense of honesty, and a very enjoyable sense of humor.

I'm sure Dick Gregory would approve of that combination.

Your show is one of the lifelines trying to keep us from reversion to an ugly American past. Please keep up the good fight.
Murry Schekman (Santa Cruz, Ca)
Thanks, Roy Wood, Jr., for your eloquence at the timing of this loss of Dick Gregory. I watch and enjoy and learn from you on the Daily Show and know that Mr. Gregory's influence is coming through. Oh, let me add-I always laugh!
josh_barnes (Honolulu, HI)
I have a memory, backed up by some photos, of standing on the steps of the US Capitol during a Vietnam Moratorium. Behind me stood rows of unsmiling police, guns on their hips; far down the mall we could see skirmishes amid plumes of tear gas. Dick Gregory took the stage and told his story of fasting against the war. When he got to the tag line "I can't believe I ate the whole thing", the police started laughing with everybody else.

Dick Gregory was a comic genius who looked to his soul for his material.
John Smith (Cherry Hill, NJ)
DICK GREGORY'S voice will echo Liberty Throughout the Land and to the Inhabitants Thereof. His immortal words show clearly why he was the master of using humor to kill racism and hate. Mel Brooks made a good show of it in his film, Springtime for Hitler, of which he himself said, I killed the Nazis with humor. While Mel Brooks is a wiseass, Dick Gregory was just plain wise.
John Sieger (Milwaukee)
This not only reminds me of why I liked Dick Gregory, it reminds me of why I like Roy a Wood Jr.. He is sneaky funny and respectful of this venerable figure. I'm white, but who cares. Funny is funny because it's the little guy talking smack to the bully, something the writer and his idol have been known to do. Thanks and Rest In Peace Dick Gregory.
Sam Daley-Harris (Princeton, NJ)
Dick Gregory had a big impact on my life. I got involved in ending global poverty 40 years ago (www.results.org). When I would talk to groups I'd say, "If you're thinking you're glad there are people out there like me, watch it, because that's what I would say about Dick Gregory who ran across the US 50 miles a day to bring attention to global poverty and was committed long before I ever was." RIP Dick Gregory.
Paul (Washington, DC)
I had not seen Dick Gregory until two years ago. He came to my place of employment as the keynote for Black History Month. They had to pick me off the floor from laughing. In my super square organization this was less than condoned behavior, but hey, it was Dick Gregory. Forty years ago one would have paid today equivalent of $100, if you could get in. I fondly remember his run for presidency. His quip when asked if he was going to concede. I paraphrase, "I won't concede yet, they haven't counted Harlem yet." A great man (actually two with Jerry Lewis) has left the building. He can never be replaced. But let use his memory to fight on against the forces of evil that seem to be winning in our country. Dick Gregory RIP.
Peter Grimm (Los Angeles)
His bit about taking the Grey Hound instead of flying... "when your bags get lost on the Grey Hound, there's no confusion about what happened to 'em . 'All the bags were stolen in Memphis...'"

So sad I didn't know more about Dick Gregory sooner. He was gift to the world. I only learned about him recently but my god, how funny and inspiring. Listen to him. It will do you good. Exactly what we need today, as the article says.
Whisk E. Chot (Washington DC)
I heard Dick Gregory speak upstate NY as a college freshman in 1969-70. I knew he was a comedian. But he was not funny - it was a wake up call and it was serious as heck....
AWG (nyc)
I saw Dick Gregory live just once, in 1969 in London. He was performing in a small club in the basement of some establishment, and the Brits in the audience were having a tough time relating to his material. After all, they didn't have "racial problems", like we did in the States. As on of the few Americans standing in that cellar, I was totally swept of my feet by this icon of social satire. None of his televised appearances came close to the power he displayed on that stage. He spent the second half of the show talking about fasting for a cause, the reasons and the mechanics of fasting, right down to the effect of fasting on his bowel movements,
It was, and will remain in my memory, as one of the greatest comedic/political performances of my life.
Lesley Patterson (Vancouver)
"I left both times feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t ask enough questions. I didn’t dig deeper. I didn’t work hard enough." But at least you know this, you know that you can do better, you know that the struggle, the striving, that's what's important. You may never be as great as Dick Gregory, but good lord.... who in this day and age is? But you can try, you can try to speak truth to power, the way he did.
CMS (Connecticut)
I had the opportunity of seeing Dick Gregory when he was doing his college tour for his "Write Me In" campaign for president. One thing he said that day has always stuck with me, which I will paraphrase here: "When you keep voting for the lesser of two evils you will wind up with the evil of the evils." I remembered what he said when Watergate happened, and I have been remembering it now. We need more Dick Gregorys in this world, especially now. We need people who are willing to speak truth to power. I mourn his passing.
Michael Deane (Los Angeles)
Beautiful! Dick Gregory somehow gets lost when it comes to politically motivated comedians. Hell, even Mort Sahl had a higher profile. Gregory was an unlikely teacher for me, a politically engaged but not terribly sophisticated kid in the 1960s. I read The Shadow That Scares Me and Nigger (the title still struggles to get past my lips) and both ripped the ignorance and apathy from my far-too comfortable eyes. His ideas transformed me and I owe him mightily for that...
toomanycrayons (today)
"I left both times feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t ask enough questions. I didn’t dig deeper. I didn’t work hard enough."

For the people who just can't see themselves fixing any of that, the Lewis Black "punchline" is: "Donald Trump."
HASch (Columbus OH)
Dick Gregory was a unique voice with a deep and penetrating perspective on life. How do you describe a legend like him? Philosopher? Advocate for human dignity? Comedian? Sociologist? All of that and more. He saw it. He lived it. And, he said it with just the just right number of words with an incredible precision-focused timing. May you rest in peace Mr. Gregory and thank you, for sharing your wisdom.
thebigmancat (New York, NY)
Well Mr. Wood. Now you know why you're here. Do it.
Ichabod Aikem (Cape Cod)
A moving tribute, Roy Wood, Jr. I love your details about the different venues in which you and Dick Gregory performed. Not only are you a great stand-up, you also are a fine writer!
ZOPK55 (Sunnyvale)
johnnyd (conestoga,pa)
See DemocracyNow.org from 8/21/2917 for a great taste of Mr. Gregory. We need scores more like him.
John (NYC)
I read Mr. Gregory's autobiography when I was 12 probably because the book title jumped off the shelf at me. I read it and it changed the way I thought of race in America. He was very good at that.
Concerned Citizen (Chicago)
Dick Gregory was a ripple of hope in a sea of crossing currents of bigotry and equality. He reminded us that injustice is unacceptable through his well timed and meaningful punch lines. He is already missed greatly. His silence is our country's loss.
BMEL47 (Düsseldorf)
A Comedian not only possesses the talent to tell stories (and be funny) in front of a crowd, He or she has to possess an innate desire to seek a deep understanding of life and society in order to interpret it in ways that turn the absurd into humor and give others a better and deeper understanding of life and society and help to better society. And that is what Mr. Gregory accomplished.
Helen McCauslin (Three Rivers, MI)
You are well are your way! Keep going. So glad to see you on The Daily Show.
Susan (Oak Park IL)
I first heard Dick Gregory speak when I was in college, in the 60s, in Ann Arbor. I can't remember how I happened to go, but it was a life-changing experience. In the midst of the turmoil of the 60s (Vietnam, the riot/rebellions all across the country, the summer of love, and so forth), I felt I was hearing The Truth. Everything he said got to the very heart of something crucial. After that, I took every opportunity I could to hear him speak. Always, there were those same incisive insights mixed with the laughs. But I always carried (and will carry) that memory of him, speaking to an auditorium of young people, opening our minds.
Barbara (Chapel Hill)
The first and only time I was privileged to hear Dick Gregory speak was in a packed Shriver Hall at Johns Hopkins in the late 60s. We were drawn there less by his celebrity than our need to soak up some of his strength and commitment in those perilous times. Speaking truth to power is a risky and uncomfortable business. We'll always need exemplars like you, Roy, to keep us walking.
lainnj (New Jersey)
Beautiful tribute, and a call for the rest of us to be better people and to build a better society, as Gregory wanted.
washingtonian (Washington, DC)
Thank you, Roy Wood, Jr. I really felt this week that tributes to this great man were sidelined. He belonged front and center. When I came of age during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mr. Gregory strongly influenced what I knew to be true about race and equality, about Vietnam and about other social and political issues.

He was a trailblazer and often a lone voice--not a spokesperson for an particular activist group. He was just himself, saying and doing what he knew had to be said and done.

I always knew his fasts probably wouldn't, of themselves, change anything specific. And clearly, he wasn't going to be our first African-American president. But his voice and his actions were courageous and he made mes think, even while I laughed.
Cate (midwest)
A beautifully written tribute, thank you. I wasn't familiar with Mr. Gregory's work but I am inspired to see what more I can find out.

Keep striving, Mr. Wood - I love and laugh at your jokes, and we need your voice. You have something to offer all of us.
Concerned Mother (New York, New York)
Best call to activism I've ever read:

The fight for freedom is out there--it isn't at my house.

Nancy Parker (Englewood, FL)
Took the words right off my keyboard. Wish I could recommend it 1,000 times!
b (ohio)
Thank you for this loving tribute. I did not agree with everything Mr. Gregory said, but I always found him to be engaging and unquestionable in love for his people. I will miss his truth telling, especially the times when he would readjust our historical perspective of events. As we say in the Caribbean, "Bless up and rest in peace" elder Gregory.
J Burkett (Austin, TX)
What a great piece. It, and others this week lauding the comic's amazing talent, make me determined to find ways to hear Mr. Gregory again. It has been decades since I watched him on television. Thank you for this.
Moira Green (Portland)
Thank you, Roy Wood Jr. I read Mr. Gregory's autobiography when I was twelve and was deeply affected by it -- I've read it several times during my life. You're right -- this country is reverting to something he fought and resisted with all of his determination, intelligence, humor and tenacity -- something he did while greatly inspiring the rest of us. He's one of those people who makes you glad that someone like him could be in this world. What a profound loss for us. Especially now.
JAM (Cincinnati)
I read his autobiography when was in the 8th grade and it was eye-opening to this white suburban kid. And I agree, now is a time for that voice.
Black Dog (Richmond, VA)
In our rush to commemorate Gregory, we should not forget that he was also a peddler of ludicrous conspiracy theories about everything from the trial of OJ Simpson to the deaths of Ron Brown and Martin Luther King Jr. While it is important to remember his courageous support for the civil rights movement and the incisive comedic insights of his early career, his days as a truth teller were over decades ago.
doy1 (nyc)
When it came to race and issues of social injustice, Mr. Gregory remained the truth teller - even while wrapping the truth in wit and humor that made it both more palatable and effective.

As for the conspiracy theories, these are common among any groups for whom paranoia rarely exceeds harsh reality. Even more bizarre conspiracy theories are now prevalent among the far right, e.g., Alex Jones' claim that the Sandy Hook mass shooting was a hoax.

Mr. Gregory deserves to be remembered for his pioneering, fearless outspokenness and activism as well as his sharp comedic talent - not dismissed for his flaws.
timbo (Brooklyn, NY)
Gregory's most sustained so called "conspiracy theory" had to do with Kennedy's assassination. Do you believe the Warren Commission?
Joe (LA)
thanks Blackfoot for a more accurate assessment of this man who was not mentally competent the last 20 years. look at any of his YouTube videos....sad and humorless.
Ann (California)
Thank you, Mr. Wood. You caught a lot of what made Mr. Gregory so special and so impressive. He continuously put himself on the line to confront the horrors of the day--poising as a comedian to deliver the truth. In reality he was far more than a wit; he was a human rights' leader and a statesman who uplifted the dialogue by making people confront the narratives of the day promoting venal politics and policies. He truly walked the talk and never shirked from living the values he held dear while also upholding that same possibility for all of of us. I feel our country is indebted to Mr. Gregory for his fearlessness and courage -- I hope we will yet thank him by achieving what he fought and sacrificed for, the vision of a better community, a better country, and a better world.
Steve (Los Angeles)
Amazing work ethics of the great performers. I'm reading about Jerry Lewis' passing also.
B Willy (Philadelphia)
The first black man (I believe) to run for president in the US, Mr. Gregory redefined the edge between comedy and consciousness in a way one could scarcely ignore. Ricard Prior and others followed in his enormous wake. Rather than use his fame to escape into the shadows, he used it to hold the light up so others in the dark could find their way. Ironically, Jerry Lewis got a bold headline in that day's papers: Mr. Gregory got an obituary. Which one contributed more to the growth of our consciousness? You decide.
Terri (Great Barrington)
All of those earlier comments pretty well cover the territory of what's on my mind. But Mr. Wood has well displayed his gift with words, e.g., yo yo-ing us back to reality. I am a new fan looking forward to following his story as he steadies himself in the big & well-worn shoes of his mentor Mr. Gregory.
m (LA)
Clearly Mr. Gregory contributed more.
Richard Pryor also contributed deeply to the growth of our consciousness.
May the totality of the universe bless Dick Gregory as he blessed us. And say "Hi" to Mr. Pryor for us. much love.
See also