Dec 27 2012

Dick Gregory: Still A Boss…

I admit to being a stan for Dick Gregory… I simply adore the man. I am grateful for the purposeful life that he has led and continues to lead. I love him.

Years ago, I was privileged to meet Mr. Gregory at a reception following a book reading. I made a complete fool of myself gushing over him. He was characteristically hilarious when he quipped (deadpanned) that he would much prefer my money to my appreciation. Then he smiled and I was done. My fandom only intensified. I am sure that thousands of people across the world have their own Dick Gregory stories.

Anyway, over the years I have read Mr. Gregory’s writings and have collected photographs of him. My favorite photographs are those of him getting arrested… [Don’t ask]. I thought that it would be fun to share some of those photos here as a way to honor Mr. Gregory’s activism and civil disobedience over the years. Stay tuned for those in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I just finished his memoir “Callus On My Soul” yesterday. It was published in 2001 and is an excellent read. Below is the book cover which is appropriate to the topics that I usually consider on this blog.

Callus on My Soul

I really like the cover and wondered what it meant. Thanks to Google, I was able to find out. In an article published in the Baltimore Sun, Gregory explains:

It shows me in a shirt and tie, behind bars. It looks like I’m in jail, but in jail you can’t wear a tie. What the picture is saying is, “I’m not in jail, America is in jail. I’m on the free side.”

Perhaps I feel an extra kinship with Dick Gregory because he is from Chicago and I live here. I just really admire him. Years ago, I remember seeing a photograph of him when he was incarcerated at the Cook County Jail. He seemed perfectly unphased by his surroundings. Cook County Jail is a hell hole today and was even more so when he was locked up there in the late 60s. I will share more about his time in jail in a future post.

I close with an excerpt from a speech that Gregory gave in 1963 on behalf of SNCC to a group of Selma residents who were worried about their sons and daughters participating in a voter registration drive. After listing the trials and tribulations suffered by black slaves, Gregory said:

A hundred years later and you people are worrying about your kids being in jail overnight, being in jail because they demonstrated for freedom. So many parents who don’t even know where their kids are, for the first time they’ll know where their kids are twenty-four hours a day. In jail. And know that they’re there for a good cause and a good reason. […]

Sometimes I wonder how much this system has corrupted us. Sometimes I wonder when we will wake up to see that the day is over when we can say, “I’m not involved.”

Those four kids who were killed in that church in Birmingham, they weren’t demonstrating.

You don’t have to participate. Just be black. Or be white, and for our cause. When the bomb is thrown, somebody has to die.

And do you know that 50 percent of the killings are our fault? That’s right. We let this white man go crazy on us, instead of straightening him out when we should have.


Get behind your kids in this town.

You can find the whole speech in his autobiography titled “Nigger.” You can also learn more about Mr. Gregory with this short documentary:

Dick Gregory: Callus on my Soul Presentation from Bradinn French on Vimeo.

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for some photographs in the coming weeks… OK back to not blogging for a few days.