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-Richard Claxton Gregory
(October 12, 1932 – August 19, 2017) was an American civil rights activist, social critic, writer, entrepreneur, comedian, and actor.
Gregory died at a hospital in Washington, D.C. on August 19, 2017 at the age of 84. The cause was heart failure
Active in the Civil Rights Movement, on October 7, 1963, Gregory came to Selma, Alabama, and spoke for two hours on a public platform two days before the voter registration drive known as “Freedom Day” (October 7, 1963).
In 1964, Gregory became more involved in civil rights activities, activism against the Vietnam War, economic reform, and anti-drug issues. As a part of his activism, he went on several hunger strikes and campaigns in America and overseas.
Gregory began his political career by running against Richard J. Daley for the mayoralty of Chicago in 1967. Though he did not win, this would not prove to be the end of his participation in electoral politics.
Dick Gregory in 1964
Gregory unsuccessfully ran for President of the United States in 1968 as a write-in candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party, which had broken off from the Peace and Freedom Party. He garnered 47,097 votes, including one from Hunter S. Thompson, with fellow activist Mark Lane as his running mate in some states, David Frost in others, and Dr. Benjamin Spock in Virginia and Pennsylvania garnering more than the party he had left. The Freedom and Peace Party also ran other candidates, including Beulah Sanders for New York State Senate and Flora Brown for New York State Assembly. His efforts landed him on the master list of Nixon’s political opponents.
Gregory then wrote the book Write Me In about his presidential campaign. One anecdote in the book relates the story of a publicity stunt that came out of Operation Breadbasket in Chicago. The campaign had printed dollar bills with Gregory’s image on them, some of which made it into circulation, causing considerable problems, but priceless publicity. The majority of these bills were quickly seized by the federal government. A large contributing factor to the seizure came from the bills resembling authentic United States currency enough that they worked in many dollar-cashing machines of the time. Gregory avoided being charged with a federal crime, later joking that the bills couldn’t really be considered United States currency, because “everyone knows a black man will never be on a U.S. bill.” For modest prices, the bills are still readily available from online auction sites.
On July 21, 1979, Gregory appeared at the Amandla Festival where Bob Marley, Patti LaBelle, and Eddie Palmieri, amongst others, had performed. Gregory gave a speech before Marley’s performance, blaming President Carter, and showing his support for the international anti-apartheid movement. Gregory and Mark Lane conducted landmark research into the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., helping move the U.S. House Select Assassinations Committee to investigate the murder, along with that of John F. Kennedy. Lane was author of conspiracy theory books such as Rush to Judgment. The pair wrote the King conspiracy book Code Name Zorro, which postulated that convicted assassin James Earl Ray did not act alone. Gregory also argued that the moon landing was faked and the commonly accepted account of the 9/11 attacks is incorrect, among other conspiracy theories.
Gregory was an outspoken activist during the US Embassy Hostage Crisis in Iran. In 1980 he traveled to Tehran to attempt to negotiate the hostages’ release and engaged in a public hunger strike there, weighing less than 100 pounds (45 kg) when he returned to the United States.
In 1998 Gregory spoke at the celebration of the birthday of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., with President Bill Clinton in attendance. Not long after, the President told Gregory’s long-time friend and public relations Consultant Steve Jaffe, “I love Dick Gregory; he is one of the funniest people on the planet.” They spoke of how Gregory had made a comment on Dr. King’s birthday that broke everyone into laughter, when he noted that the President made Speaker Newt Gingrich ride “in the back of the plane,” on an Air Force One trip overseas.