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Black News and News Makers in History: Dick Gregory

African American news from Pasadena - recognizes Black news and news makers in history this week - Dick GregoryDick Gregory, comedian, writer and activist.

Richard Claxton Gregory was born on October 12, 1932 in St. Louis, Missouri. Reared in poverty; he began working at an early age to help support his family. He was involved in sports and social causes in high school, and he entered Southern Illinois University on an athletic scholarship in 1951, standing out as a middle-distance runner. He was named the university's outstanding student athlete in 1953, the same year he left college to join the U.S. Army, where he hosted and performed comedy routines in military shows. Gregory began his professional career in 1958 as a master of ceremonies at several Chicago nightclubs.

He achieved national recognition following his debut at the Playboy Club in Chicago in 1961. The one-nighter turned into a six-week engagement that earned him a profile in Time magazine and a television appearance on the Tonight Show of the time--The Jack Paar Show. In his numerous succeeding television, nightclub, and concert routines, he targeted poverty, segregation, and racial discrimination.

He gained fame as a comedian for his satirical views on American racial attitudes. In addition, Gregory wrote several books of racial humor, the first being From the Back of the Bus (1962). Gregory shocked the country by titling his second book, an autobiography, NIGGER! (1964). He described his humble beginnings, and the racism he experienced at Southern Illinois University in the 1950s.

During his presidential campaign, he also wrote Write Me In (1968). There was also No More Lies: The Myth and the Reality of American History (1971). Active in the Civil Rights Movement, Gregory was arrested for civil disorder during a 1963 civil rights demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama. He was also an outspoken critic of American involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1968, he believed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation played a role in the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Gregory's personal study into the matter resulted in his book Code Name Zorro (1978). A congressional investigation disagreed with his theory.

In the early 1970s Gregory abandoned comedy to focus on his political interests, this widened from race relations to include such issues as violence, world hunger, capital punishment, drug abuse, and poor health care. He generated particular attention for his more than a hundred hunger fasts. At this time he became a vegetarian, a marathon runner, and an expert on nutrition.

In the 1980's, he began a soon successful business venture with his nutritional product, the "Bahamian Diet," around which he built Dick Gregory Health Enterprises, Inc. Through his company, he targeted the lower life expectancy of Black Americans, which he attributed to poor nutrition and drug and alcohol abuse. Dick Gregory seems to never be finished; he won't quit — his wife of 40 plus years and their ten children are used to him being on the road and active in some cause.

Now, Gregory is fighting cancer. Southern Illinois University inducted him into its Athletic Hall of Fame recently. Then there was a tribute to Gregory by his friends and supporters in the nation's capital on October 9, 2000 at the Kennedy Center, hosted by the National Council of Negro Women showing him their "appreciation for his uncommon character, unconditional love, and generous service."

At a civilrights rally marking the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Gregory called the United States, "the most dishonest, ungodly, nonspirituals nation that ever existed in the history of the planet. As we talk now, America is 5 percent of the world's population and consumes 96 percent of the world's hard drugs."

Excerpts from http://www.anothershadeofcolor.com.