1968 Dick Gregory for President campaign button
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    Dick Gregory never lost his “tell-it-like-it-is” streak

    The first time I saw Dick Gregory was during a speech he gave at Ohio State University where I was a graduate student in the 1970s. By then, he had given up his lean years as a stand-up comedian, and was a strident student of America and one of its harshest critics.

    He was full on at that performance, just as he was at the many others on countless college campuses in the decade after the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

    More than 20 years later, I met Gregory in person when I spent time interviewing him for a story about his life for Emerge magazine. One of the interviews was in New York, and a friend drove to the city with me to catch Gregory along with comedian Paul Mooney at Carolines. My interview was scheduled for the next day.

    Gregory invited us to sit at his table as we watched Mooney lampoon just about everyone in much the same way as Gregory had always done. “I felt like a celeb,” my friend announced years later. Not everyone apparently did; a few white folks walked out, she recalled; apparently, they were not familiar with Mooney and his truths.

    Gregory was pleasant, kind, unpretentious and serious about what he was doing and what he was about. So I was sad to hear that he passed away over the weekend. We will no longer hear his voice taking politicians and other others to task. But we do have his legacy to remind us of how naturally funny and intuitive he was.

    Dick Gregory. Photo from imdb.com.

    Dick Gregory. Photo from imdb.com.

    At auction recently, I came across a campaign button from Gregory’s bid to become president of the United States as a write-in candidate – which I’m sure that he the pragmatist knew was never going to happen. Gregory got more than 47,000 votes.

    My article about Gregory appeared in Emerge in the December/January 1997 issue. Here’s a dab of the top of it. Do a full read and you’ll learn a lot about his life’s journey:

    “At a press conference about allegations that the CIA helped pump crack cocaine into a Los Angeles neighborhood, Dick Gregory is doing what he’s always done: making people laugh.

    After weeks of radio shows, protests and arrests, Gregory and radio host Joe Madison have finally gotten the media’s attention. Reporters jam the room in a Washington, D.C., hotel. The faces behind the podium are stern, the mood somber. As Gregory put it earlier: ‘Nothing in the history of this planet is as foul as what we are about to uncover.’

    Madison continues in these grave tones but at one point misquotes Gregory on a statistic. Gregory jumps in: “No, 83 percent of cocaine users are white,” he says and, then without warning, deadpans, “which is kind of amazing with those little nostrils.”

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