Lexington, Virginia • January 7, 2009
Dick Gregory, the comedian and civil rights activist, will be the keynote speaker for Washington and Lee University's Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on Sunday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. in Lee Chapel.
The program, "The World According to Dick Gregory: An Evening of Humor and Humanity," is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the African American Studies Program, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Xi Delta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Inc., ONYX, Multicultural Student Association and Black Law School Association.
The 76-year-old Gregory's social satire changed the way white Americans perceived African American comedians since he first performed in public in the early 1960s.
His comedy career breakthrough came in 1961, when a one-nighter at the Chicago Playboy Club turned into a six-week stint that earned him a profile in Time magazine and a television appearance on "The Jack Paar Show." In his numerous subsequent television, nightclub and concert routines, he targeted poverty, segregation and racial discrimination.
Active in the civil rights movement, Gregory participated in numerous demonstrations and was arrested for civil disobedience several times; in 1963 he was jailed in Birmingham, Ala. His activism spurred him to run for mayor of Chicago in 1966 and for president of the United States in 1968.
In the early 1970s, Gregory abandoned comedy to focus on his political interests, which widened from race relations to include such issues as violence, world hunger, capital punishment, drug abuse and poor health care. He generated particular attention for his many hunger fasts, which ultimately led to his becoming a vegetarian, a marathon runner and an expert on nutrition. His nutritional product, the Bahamian Diet, was central to Dick Gregory Health Enterprises Inc., a company through which he targeted the lower life expectancy of African Americans, which he attributed to poor nutrition and drug and alcohol abuse.
Gregory is the author of several books, including "Nigger: An Autobiography" (1964) and "No More Lies: The Myth and the Reality of American History" (1971). His most recent book, "Callus On My Soul," updates his earlier autobiography.
The comedian and speaker was honored at the Kennedy Center in 2000 at an event hosted by Bill Cosby and featuring nearly a dozen luminaries, including Sinbad, Dorothy Height, Coretta Scott King, Marion Barry and Stevie Wonder.