Dick Gregory, Civil Rights Activist and Comedic Legend

Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory was born in St. Louis, Missouri on October 12, 1932. He attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale, until he was drafted into the United States Army. Gregory is notably recognized for his work during the 1960s where he became a forerunner in stand-up comedy and a political activist. He was the first African American comedian to do stand-up comedy to successfully cross-over to white audiences. Gregory paved the way for many black comedians to separate from the racially charged entertainment traditions. He became known as the “Black Mort Sahl,” because his style was ironic and satirical.

Dick Gregory, image from the New York Daily Times

Dealing with discrimination, Gregory began to protest against the state of nation and its harsh treatment towards African Americans. He organized with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) encouraging voter registration drives, and in sit-ins to protest segregation, and participated in marches that were against the Vietnam War, World Hunger, and other social issues.

In the John R. Hickman Audio Collection, the National Archives has the sound recording, Speech by Activist Dick Gregory at the University of Alabama (NAID 2842932), which contains clips of his speech and a short interview of his views on the development of black identity at the university in 1969. Gregory’s activism was also monitored and recorded by several investigative agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). The various case files related to Gregory can be found in RG 65 Classification 157 (Civil Unrest) Case Files, 1957-1978 in the file unit 157-347 [Classification – Civil Unrest] Richard Claxton Gregory–Dick Gregory (NAID 24282813) and in RG 60 Classification 44 (Civil Rights) Headquarters Case Files, 1924-1978 in the file unit 44-22002, Alabama (1963) Dick Gregory (NAID 7627910).

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