To some, it’s hard to understand how a talented comedian could walk away from a multi-million dollar contract in the 1960s and exchange the big stage for a life of marching, protesting and activism.
Even though odd, comedian and social activist Dick Gregory did just that. Whether he was marching for integration in Selma in the 1960s or advocating that “Black Lives Matter” in Washington D.C. in 2016, Gregory was indeed a freedom fighter for his people until he died Aug. 19 at the age of 84.
“It is with enormous sadness that the Gregory family confirms that their father, comedic legend and civil rights activist Mr. Dick Gregory departed this earth tonight in Washington, D.C.,” his son Christian Gregory said in a post on Gregory’s Facebook page. “The family appreciates the outpouring of support and love and respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time. More details will be released over the next few days.”
Gregory was a regular on 1450 WOL-AM, the very first station that evolved into the Radio One and now the TV One network.
“He loved us – he appreciated the work we were doing to keep our community informed and, most importantly, we were Dick Gregory’s home base,” said Radio One Owner and visionary Cathy Hughes during a special Broadcast on the Roland Martin Morning show.
Hughes added that Gregory understood the power of what she was trying to do. “He knew at any time he could be on the internet, he could be on radio, he could be on television – he could continue to spread his powerful message of liberation for our community.”
Hughes as well as one of his sons, who appeared on WHUR on Aug. 21 said that even though Gregory grew up in a St. Louis ghetto, he had the opportunity to make millions of dollars. His son said Gregory chose to be an advocate for his people.
“He was given a choice,” Yohance Maqubela, Gregory’s son, told the AFRO on Aug. 21. “You either give up Civil Rights or we are going to give you up. That was the night club piece. When we see people today who are afraid to sit down and take a knee and here is a person who time and time again gave up multimillion contracts because of his beliefs.”
Gregory embraced many causes ranging from the March on Washington to the Million Man March. He also became an expert on health and wellness long before it was popular.
“He often taught me to be lovable than to be loved because everybody wants to be loved,” Civil Rights activist E. Faye Williams told the AFRO. “He always wanted young people to listen more than they talked. He had been through things they had talked about and they could get more help by listening.”
Gregory became a pioneer in stand-up comedy for his “no-holds-barred” sets, where he actually mocked racism and bigotry.
Gregory became the first Black comedian to successfully cross over to White audiences, appearing on television and putting out comedic record albums.
“In the early 90s, when Cathy Hughes took some time off from her WOL and asked me to host, she hired Dick Gregory to cohost with me,” Mark Thompson, a RadioOne veteran, told the AFRO. “I was just a kid. Cathy and Dick were really my on-air parents and they raised me on the radio. Dick and I have spoken every day since, and never missed a chance to engage in freedom- fighting together.”
Around the country thousands have remembered the comedian for not only his talent, but also his work in fighting for Black rights.
“He taught us how to laugh. He taught us how to fight. He taught us how to live. Dick Gregory was committed to Justice,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson tweeted on Aug. 19. “I miss him already. #RIP”