A Year: Day to Day Men: 12th of October, Solar Year 2018
October 12, 1932 marks the birthdate of comedian an civil rights activist Dick Gregory.
Born in Saint Louis, Missouri, Richard Claxton Gregory, while at Summer High School, earned a track scholarship to Southern Illinois University, where he set records as a half-miler and miler. In 1954 his education was interrupted for two years when he was drafted into the United States Army, It was in the army that Gregory got his start in comedy, entering and winning several talent shows.
Dick Gregory, after his military discharge in 1956, moved to Chicago with the hope of becoming a professional comedian. He opened at the Apex Club nightclub in 1958; however, the club failed. The next year Gregory landed a job as Master of Ceremonies at the Roberts Show Club, becoming one of the first black comedians to gain widespread acclaim while performing for white audiences. In 1961 he was spotted by Hugh Hefner, who hired Gregory to work at the Chicago Playboy Club.
Early in his career, Dick Gregory was offered an engagement on the Tonight Show Starring Jack Parr. Parr’s show was well known for helping entertainers achieve their goals in their careers. Dick Gregory declined several invitations to perform on the show, until producers agreed to allow him to stay after his performance to sit and do an interview with Parr on the air. This was the first time in the show’s history that black comedians were to do that, spurring conversations across America.
Dick Gregory became part of a new generation of black comedians In America that included Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby and Godfrey Cambridge, all of whom broke with the traditional black minstrel characters. Gregory’s no-hold-barred comedy sets, mocking bigotry and racism created controversy in some circles. In one instance, he was barred from performing at the University of Tennessee until students sued and won the case in court. This led to the university adopting and open-speaker system, and Gregory performed there in April of 1970.
Dick Gregory was at the forefront of political activism in the 1960s, protesting racial injustice, social inequalities, and the Vietnam War. He was arrested multiple times and went on many hunger strikes. Gregory later became a speaker and an author, primarily promoting spirituality and healthy living. A week prior to his death, Dick Gregory was hospitalized in Washington DC with a bacterial infection. He died at the hospital of heart failure on August 19,2017 at the age of 84.