Crusader staff report
An elaborate sendoff is being planned for comedian and activist Dick Gregory, who died August 20 in Washington, D.C. He had a long and illustrious career that broke racial barriers during segregation in Chicago and America.
Details of the plan remain tentative as of the Crusader press time Wednesday, but details were released which include a schedule of events and venues that may change. For now, Gregory’s funeral will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, September 17 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall in the nation’s capital. After the funeral, a reception will follow at 5:30 p.m. on the rooftop terrace.
The funeral will conclude a schedule of events that will celebrate Gregory’s life and honor his contributions to civil rights.
On Thursday, September 14, a limited, private viewing of Gregory will be held on the Howard University campus in Washington, D.C. The time of the event has not been determined.
From 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Friday, September 15, Gregory will lie in repose at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial that sits on the Tidal Basin just off the National Mall. Surviving members of King’s family and Gregory’s family will lead a wreath-laying ceremony. During his lifetime, Gregory was a close friend of the slain civil rights leader.
On Saturday, September 16, a New Orleans-style funeral march will head down the U Street Corridor/Black Broadway.
Dick Gregory was born in a predominately Black ghetto in St. Louis in 1932. He was the second of six children. Gregory’s father abandoned the family, leaving his mother poor, and the family often went without food or electricity. While in high school, Gregory became a state champion in track and field and earned an athletic scholarship to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL.
Gregory moved to Chicago to build a comedy career in the late 1950s. He met Lillian Smith, then a secretary at the University of Chicago. They were married in 1959 and had 11 children. Richard Jr., died in infancy.
In 1967, Gregory ran for mayor of Chicago against Richard J. Daley, as a write in candidate. The next year he ran for president against Richard Nixon. Gregory lost both races but the moves served to send a message that politics were a joke during that time.
Gregory was often arrested during multiple sit-ins. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover enlisted a mob to keep a close eye on Gregory during the presidential election.
At a time when Blacks were hired only as singers and dancers in white-owned clubs, Playboy CEO Hugh Hefner hired Gregory to fill in as a comedian in his flagship club on Chicago’s Gold Coast. His audience was mostly white Southern businessmen, who heckled him with racist gibes, but Gregory stuck to his routine for hours and left them howling.
His race focused comedy routine was a breakthrough for Gregory, and for Black America.