Sunday, August 20, 2017

Laughing Our Way to Justice

"Once I accept injustice, I become injustice. For example, paper mills give off a terrible stench. But the people who work there don't smell it. Remember, Dr. King was assassinated when he went to work for garbage collectors. To help them as workers to enforce their rights. They couldn't smell the stench of the garbage all around them anymore. They were used to it. They would eat their lunch out of a brown bag sitting on the garbage truck. One day, a worker was sitting inside the back of the truck on top of the garbage, and got crushed to death because no one knew he was there." Dick Gregory.

Noting the passing of comedian and activist Dick Gregory.

For a funny guy, a man who made audiences laugh out loud, he could also make a person uncomfortable. Soul searching does that.

 "Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, "We don't serve colored people here." I said, "That's all right. I don't eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken." At the Playboy Club, Chicago, 1961.

Gregory was one of a number of breakthrough black comics in the 1960s, men who used quick wit to help the medicine go down. America was being reminded, sometimes forcefully, that there was a lot of work to be done if she was to mean what she said about equality, freedom and justice. Gregory led from the front, paying the price - literally - in blood. He spent time in jail, mostly for standing up for the things  other Americans take for granted.

It isn't easy, hearing that the comfortable world around you is not open to others merely because of their skin color. Today was a new day - what were you doing to fight injustice? It was a message we in the awakening 1960s didn't always accept. We didn't always laugh.

It wasn't just about race for him. Wherever he found a cause, he found his voice. He was a feminist, an animal rights champion, and something of a truther. His health food gig was unconventional, mostly liquid. He was still on the road, still appearing, when a simple medical issue took him at 84. As doctors fought for his life, he promised his audiences he'd be back. He had an opinion about events in Charlottesville. He wanted to share them.

God speed.


  1. Context or perspective are odd things. Every now and then I have to remind myself that I was *already born* when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. That means I was alive when it *wasn't* the law of the land.

    Segregation, racism, and all the worst of it seem like a historical footnote to me, until I think about it. Yeah, we fought a Civil War, but that was a hundred years before I was born.

    And yet...Jim Crow. Less than a hundred years before. And the Civil Rights Act? I was alive before it passed.

    I cannot possibly conceive what life was like for folks like Mr. Gregory. But I'm glad folks like he were around to fight the mostly good fight. I don't know that I'd've been man enough to do likewise had the situation been reversed.


  2. What a great comment! I'm like you - I don't presume to put myself in another's place. I cn't help but notice that the world is an eminently better place today than when I was born in the early 50s. At least some of the credit belongs to Dick Gregory and his contemporaries.