A great darkness fell across the land a few days ago, and I’m not talking about the Great American Eclipse. I’m talking about a giant force of enlightenment that has been removed from physical view, not for two minutes, but for perpetuity. And it is in perpetuity that we should recognize the light that Dick Gregory shone on racism, injustice, apathy, and ignorance for decades.
Most folks know about Dick Gregory the comedian / conspiracy theorist, but few knew the dedicated concerned world citizen with a deep commitment to the truth, and the organization he maintained to research and expose it. He made himself especially available to speak to, inspire, motivate, and enlighten college students. I want to, in this column, share with you my personal reflections on the late, great Dick Gregory, some of the events I attended where he was, and what he has meant to me over the years.
It has been my pleasure to share many rooms and a few rides with Dick Gregory over the years. In the 1970’s I first became aware of his depth of persistence in ferreting out the truth and exposing it through his book, “No More Lies,” which I used for a book report in an American History class while an undergraduate at Tennessee State University. At TSU, we arranged for Mr. Gregory to come speak often. He also came to Nashville in 1977, for a major protest against U.S. participation in the Davis Cup, an anti-apartheid protest because it included then-segregated South Africa.
In the 1980’s: In Washington, DC, he was keynote speaker at Black College Day in September, 1980. In Houston, Texas, at the ‘other TSU’ (Texas Southern University) a national convention of the National Organzation of Black University and College Students, affectionately known as NOBUCS had a delegation from TSU. Greg stayed up for hours into the night hashing out issues and clarifying values for the fledgling organization, helping shape the focus and strategies for successful engagement and negotiations with campus authorities, boards of governance and legislative bodies to protect and enhance their schools.
In the 1990s, two major organizations and their conferences kept me in contact with Greg. Dr. Ray Winbush revived the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University, and two key persons he brought in to speak frequently were the late great Dr. Frances Cress Welsing and Mr. Dick Gregory. I loved being the guy Greg would have read documents and hold up research artifacts during his RRI presentations at Fisk. But the personal conversations we had were the most memorable, and they will remain personal.
Dr. A.J. Stovall created the annual National African American Student Leadership Conference in 1994, and a prime speaker and source of inspiration was Greg. Greg would still come, speak a keynote, and stay up into the night talking with students. And, the van rides from the campus to the hotel were always fun to get inside scoop from Greg before he would go public with it.
Here in Nashville, we have been fortunate to have Greg come frequently to support various community initiatives, as well as do comedy stand-up. I well remember enjoying his gig at Zanie’s a few years ago.
Many of us recall him coming for the MLK Day observance with Martin L, King III last year, and the community reception for him at Carol Ann’s, before she passed away, also. We need to cherish our great ones while they are here with us, remember them and honor their legacy when they transition. Rest well, Greg, we loved you while you were with us and love you still.