Dick Gregory’s Celebration of Life

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens, a time to be born and a time to die ~Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Ayana’s musical tribute to her father

Ayanna paying tribute to her father

Civil rights activist and humanitarian, comic genius and satirist, social commentator and health guru, loving husband and devoted father are only some of the words that describe Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory.

The night was filled with soulful recollection of fond moments with Baba from a star studded line up of celebrity friends in the likes of India Aire, Joe Morton, Stevie Wonder, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a featured video of Cicely Tyson honoring his life; the children of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Richard Pryor; a musical tribute by Baba’s daughter Ayanna; the eulogy by Minister Louis Farrakhan, and so much more.

The children of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, and Richard Pryor at Dick Gregorys Celebration of Life

Dick Gregory was born in St. Louis, Missouri on October 12, 1932, the second of Lucille and Presley Gregory’s six children.  He grew up in abject poverty in racially segregated America, craving life’s basic necessities. In high school he took up running just to be able to take a shower as a member of the track team. 

In the mid-1950s, Gregory followed some of his siblings to Chicago, where he began working as a comedian and MC at small Black nightclubs.  It was at one of these clubs, the Esquire Lounge, that he met Lillian Smith, marrying her in 1959 and have eleven children.

Gregory’s big break came in 1961 when he was performing at the Playboy Club in Chicago.  In 192, President John F. Kennedy invited Gregory, his wife Lillian, and other prominent Black leaders to the White House for the Emancipation Proclamation centenary celebration.  Gregory’s life changed forever.

That year he also met Medgar Evers and spoke at voter registration rallies in Jackson, Mississippi.  He stood with Gloria Steinem and other feminists in support of the Women’s Rights Movement, his activism brought him into conversations with prominent figures such as James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, John Lennon, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and Yoko Ono.

Gregory ran for Mayor of the City of Chicago in 1967, in 1968 he became the first Black person to run for President of the United States.  In 1970s he became a vegetarian and created an all natural super food named the 4x Formula.

Throughout his life, Gregory penned twenty books, including his groundbreaking autobiography, Nigger in 1964.  On August 19, 2017, Richard Claxton Gregory completed his mission here on earth, mourned by his wife Lillian, and ten children Michele, Lynne, Satori, Paula, Zenobia, Gregory, Miss, Christian, Ayanna and Yohance.

Photos by Carletha Cole