Museum News

Statement on the Passing of Dick Gregory

August 25, 2017

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is saddened by the passing of Dick Gregory. We honor the legacy and mourn the loss of a man whose signature brand of humor beginning in the 1960s brought unique fuel to the nation’s Freedom Movement.  Throughout the ensuing decades of his life and career he fashioned a powerful place in the public discourse on race and influenced the thinking of generations of Americans.  Driven by an enormous heart and keen intellect, Gregory broadened his focus to include the social justice struggles of native Americans and Latinos, healthy living, and opposition to the Vietnam war.

On stage, in comedy clubs, and on college campuses, on radio, television, and recordings, Dick Gregory struck a blow to the heart of racism with messages full of wit and wisdom.

Black and white photo with Gregory wearing a white cap, light jacket with a peace symbol pin and carrying carnations.

1968 photograph of Dick Gregory walking in New York

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, © Anthony Barboza

People listened.  People laughed. And people were moved to think about oppression in new ways. A pioneer in the realm of African American satire, he landed a high profile spot on the social justice landscape, capturing the attention of audiences black and white and making it possible and necessary for other African American comedians to do the same.

The author of eleven books – the 12th  is due out next month – Gregory started public life as a stand-up comedian skilled in mixing laughter with bitter truth.  In a career that spanned more than half a century he evolved, taking his thought-provoking commentary to rallies, sit-ins, marches, hunger strikes and publishing.   He was there on August, 28, 1963 when hundreds of thousands marched on Washington for jobs and freedom. Eighteen days later he was there in Birmingham after white supremacists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church and took the lives of four African American girls.  In the Museum’s exhibition “Taking the Stage” which explores the history of African Americans in television, theater, film, and comedy, these words from Dick Gregory get a prominent place:  “If I have said anything to upset you, maybe it’s what I’m here for.”  Classic Dick Gregory.  Insightful. Fearless. Unforgettable.

Gregory's April 2017 visit to the museum

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About The Museum

The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped us shape this nation. A place that transcends the boundaries of race and culture that divide us, and becomes a lens into a story that unites us all.