The first time I saw Dick Gregory, in person, was my freshman year in college. He was the guest speaker invited to entertain the students and faculty at Murray State University, a small college in western Kentucky.
He was amazing. I watched him perform, probably on the Ed Sullivan Show, a few times. I knew he was a great entertainer. What I didn't know was that he was the first black comedian to appear on television. However, there was so much more to the man than his ability to make people of any color laugh. With his first steps on the stage he owned the crowd. I don't think he received a standing ovation as he strolled on stage. Everyone applauded with gusto and anticipation. We were ready to be entertained. What we received was a lesson in humility and humanity and a good dose of humor. He made us stop and think while we laughed.
Our high school had been integrated in 1964, without a lot of problems. There were a few weeks of bomb threats and then it seemed integration fell into place. All students went to school. The rest of the United States was not a fortunate. And I may have seen only what I wanted to see. However, that is my memory of our schools integration.
Dick Gregory told us of a different integration than we had experienced. We all watched the news and knew the trouble in the land. I did not see it up close and personal. He did. He lived it.
He spoke of life as a second class citizen in his own country. He mocked bigotry and racism.
He also spoke on Vietnam. He talked about how fortunate we were to be in college when so many young men who could not afford college were fighting a war with no way to win. I was sitting in the midst of several young men and I have to admit, that statement made a few of them squirm in their seats. I also squirmed in my seat. I knew he was telling the truth. I also knew Tommy had enlisted in the Marine Corps. Vietnam was always on my mind.
Dick Gregory told one story that stuck in my mind. He was married and had several children. He named his newest born daughter "Miss". He said when people talked to her she would be referred to as 'Miss Gregory' without the usual slurs. He said he knew he could not stop it all but at least most of the time his daughter would be called, "Miss Gregory". That statement brought tears to my eyes. I always knew I wanted children and I wanted them respected as human beings.
He told more funny stories and all too soon the show was over. He thanked us all for coming and he received a standing ovation from everyone in the audience. We stood and clapped until our hands hurt. Then it was over. Everyone went their own way back to dorms or houses. I can almost guarantee Dick Gregory walked home with each and every student in their minds. I know he walked home in my head.
Dick Gregory died August 19, 2017. He was 84 years old. I have an old album of his I think I will try and find today. The record player is long gone but I would like to hold the record. There was one thing I did not know about him. He was a conspiracy theorist. I smiled when I read this statement. I have been a conspiracy theorist since President Kennedy was killed. Most people think this is such a crazy way to think. However, I will forever believe that the government we see and the one that is running our country and the world are two separate entities. We are just along for the ride and to keep these people funded. Conspiracy theorists is as easy for me to believe in as knowing there is a God. I have no doubt about either.