At a time when social wisdom and civil rights acumen is sorely needed, an American icon has slipped away.
Civil Rights activist, social commentator, and comedy icon Dick Gregory was among the Black comedy pioneers of the 1960s that successfully crossed over and appealed to white audiences. But perhaps his most impactful legacy will be the role he played as a highly visible Black entertainer who courageously lent his celebrity voice to the Civil Rights movement and the cause of his people.
He stood among several giants in the entertainment industry and other high-profile fields, including Muhammed Ali, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., Diahann Carroll, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and others who found the courage to put the fight for Civil Rights above personal profits. They stood up, spoke out, and risked their careers to fight for justice and equality.
Gregory grew up in poverty in St. Louis, Missouri, attained a level of international fame, and chose to be an advocate and agitator for civil rights. In a 1989 interview on 60 Minutes, he said, “I chose to be an agitator. The next time you put your underwear in the washing machine, take the agitator out, and all you’re going to end up with are some dirty, wet drawers.”
Gregory passed away Saturday at the age of 84.