Dick Gregory
National Visionary

Born October 12, 1932 in St. Louis Missouri

Civil rights activist, author, and comedian

Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory, comedian and civil rights activist whose social satire changed the way White Americans perceived African American comedians since he first performed in public.

After a childhood of poverty in St. Louis, Gregory attended college on a track scholarship and later served two years in the army. In the middle 1950s he concentrated on finding work as a comedian, always having had, as he says, "a good rap." He spent several years working occasional gigs as master of ceremonies at Chicago area black night clubs, alternating his work with periods as a car washer and post office employee. In 1958, he opened his own nightclub, the Apex Club, in Robbins, Illinois, but the club soon failed, leaving Gregory in debt. A turning point came in late 1959 when he rented the Roberts Show Club in Chicago and organized a party for the Pan American Games teams. The success of the party and of Gregory's role as its master of ceremonies convinced the owner of the club to hire Gregory as the regular master of ceremonies. But when the job ended a year later, Gregory was unemployed and broke once again. It was then that he got the one-night job at the Playboy Club that changed his life.

Gregory in 1964
As he became better established as a comedian, Gregory put his convictions into practice by devoting much of his time to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. On behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress on Racial Equality, and other prominent civil rights organizations, Gregory made appearances at demonstrations, marches, and rallies throughout the country. He performed in many fund-raising shows for the movement and participated in nonviolent civil disobedience actions. When his concern for America's social problems demanded a greater level of involvement, Gregory entered electoral politics. In 1966 he was a candidate for mayor of Chicago and, in 1968, the presidential candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party, a splinter group of the Peace and Freedom Party. Gregory's campaigns were closely associated with the New Left and Black Power movements of the late 1960s and called for civil rights, peace in Vietnam, and racial and social justice. Although neither of his electoral campaigns were successful, they did draw attention to issues that Gregory felt should be better known. His unsuccessful presidential bid, a write-in effort in most states, garnered some two hundred thousand votes and substantial media attention.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
In the late 1960s Gregory came to believe that his personal life must be changed in order to bring it into harmony with his political beliefs. Accordingly, he became a vegetarian because of his commitment to nonviolence. His research into diet and health led him to outspoken positions on the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle and the ill effects of the normal American diet. Soon after, he quit the nightclub circuit in favor of speaking engagements at colleges, churches, and schools.

Encouraged by the benefits of his vegetarian lifestyle, Gregory began in the 1970s to explore other areas of health care and nutrition. He soon became interested in fasting and marathon running, activities he now practices as a personal witness to call attention to social issues. He has fasted a number of times to publicize the world hunger problem, to draw attention to the nation's drug abuse epidemic, and to emphasize the plight of the American Indians. Gregory has engaged in marathon runs for similar reasons, running from Chicago to Washington, DC, for example, to urge that action be taken by the government to ease world famine.


Dick Gregory's Wikipedia Page

Roundtable Discussion with Dick Gregory on black humor

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/gregorydick