Dick Gregory, 84, Dies; Found Humor in the Civil Rights Struggle
Dick Gregory, the pioneering black satirist who transformed cool humor into a barbed force for civil rights in the 1960s, then veered from his craft for a life devoted to protest and fasting in the name of assorted social causes, health regimens and conspiracy theories, died Saturday in Washington.
I appreciated his comedy and his activism.Early in his career Mr. Gregory insisted in interviews that his first order of business onstage was to get laughs, not to change how white America treated Negroes (the accepted word for African-Americans at the time). “Humor can no more find the solution to race problems than it can cure cancer,” he said. Nonetheless, as the civil rights movement was kicking into high gear, whites who caught his club act or listened to his routines on records came away with a deeper feel for the nation’s shameful racial history.
Mr. Gregory was a breakthrough performer in his appeal to whites — a crossover star, in contrast to veteran black comedians like Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley and Slappy White, whose earthy, pungent humor was mainly confined to black clubs on the so-called chitlin circuit.