"Lil and I made an agreement," "We promised ourselves that black folks would always come first."
He and his wife Lil have been jailed over 50 times in Washington DC alone.
From an early age, Gregory demonstrated a strong sense of social justice. While a student at Sumner High School in St. Louis he led a March protesting Segregated schools. Later, inspired by the work of leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Gregory took part in the Civil Rights Movement and used his celebrity status to draw attention to such issues as segregation and disfranchisement. When local Mississippi governments stopped distributing Federal food surpluses to poor blacks in areas where SNCC was encouraging voter registration, Gregory chartered a plane to bring in several tons of food. He participated in SNCC's voter registration drives and in sit-ins to protest segregation, most notably at a restaurant franchise in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Only later did Gregory disclose that he held stock in the chain.
"I don't think Dick Gregory is funny," said the segregationalist George Wallace, Democratic Governor of Alabama. "Not any more."
Gregory's autobiography, Nigger, was published in 1963 prior to The assassination of President Kennedy, and became the number one best-selling book in America. Over the decades it has sold in excess of seven million copies. His choice for the title was explained in the forward, where Dick Gregory wrote a note to his mother. "Whenever you hear the word 'Nigger'," he said, "you'll know their advertising my book."
Through the 1960s, Gregory spent more time on social issues and less time on performing. He participated in marches and parades to support a range of causes, including opposition to the Vietnam War, world hunger, and drug abuse. In addition, Gregory fasted in protest more than 60 times, once in Iran, where he fasted and prayed in an effort to urge the Ayatollah Khomeini to release American embassy staff who had been taken hostage. The Iranian refusal to release the hostages did not decrease the depth of Gregory's commitment; he weighed only 97 .lbs when he left Iran.
Gregory demonstrated his commitment to confronting the entrenched political powers by opposing Richard J. Daley in Chicago's 1966 mayoral election. He ran for president in 1968 as a write-in candidate for the Freedom and Peace Party, a splinter group of the Peace and Freedom Party and received 1.5 million votes. Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey lost the election to Republican Richard Nixon by 510,000 votes, and many believe Humphrey would have won had Gregory not run. After the assassinations of King, President John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy, Gregory became increasingly convinced of the existence of political conspiracies. Gregory wrote books such as Code Name Zorro: The Murder of Martin Luther King Jr. (1971) with Mark Lane, world famous author, attorney and documentary filmmaker, whose findings published in the best-selling 1966 book Rush To Judgment Gregory credited with reversing the nation’s opinion on who assassinated the president and the facts which contradicted the official government version contained in the Warren Report. Lane’s book contained answers and facts, which Gregory has espoused in Numerous lectures from then until now. Lane and Gregory have been best friends, co-authors and have lectured together for over 40 years and both live in Washington D.C. Gregory and Lane’s book on the assassination of Dr. King was recently released under another title, Murder In Memphis, as a trade paperback.
Gregory's activism continued into the 1990s. In response to published allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had supplied cocaine to predominantly African American areas in Los Angeles, thus spurring the crack epidemic, Gregory protested at CIA headquarters and was arrested. In 1992 he began a program called ?Campaign for Human Dignity? to fight crime in St. Louis neighborhoods.
Excerpt from an interview by David Chalmers