Tag Archives: race relations

R.I.P. Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory

Richard “Dick” Claxton Gregory
(12 October 1932, St. Louis, Missouri – 19 August 2017, Washington, D.C.)

Dick Gregory Lecturing at Wright State University, April 1973
Photo: Wilbur Norman

Dick Gregory, U.S. Army veteran, urbane comedian-turned-social activist and writer, actor, businessman and provocateur par excellence, died yesterday at the age of 84. I first met him in April 1973 when he spoke at Wright State University. I would then run into him at various events around the East Coast. I think the last time I saw him must have been in 1987 when he was arrested protesting apartheid in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, DC.

He could keep up a biting and satirical running commentary better than anyone I have ever met, no doubt from practice as a stand-up comedian in his early career. That career was given a big boost by his appearance on The Jack Paar Tonight Show in 1961.

After turning down invitations to perform on the show he was called by Paar to find out why. (Billy Eckstine had told Gregory no black performer was ever asked to sit on the couch after their act.) Gregory told Paar that the reason he was not willing to perform on The Tonight Show was “because a Negro has never been able to finish the act and walk to the couch.” The show’s producers changed this policy, making Gregory the first African American to take the couch and talk with Paar after a show appearance!

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Still the Greatest! RIP Mohammed Ali (1942-2016)

“It was his beauty that beat me.” – George Foreman

In a world where many noted personalities are famous simply for being… well… famous, Mohammed Ali was a giant, a man who not only had a skill and performed colossal feats with that skill (40 Sports Illustrated covers as of next week attest to this) but who stood for something, as well. Ali became a symbol of hope and aspiration for anyone trying to make something of a life begun in humble or deprived origins, for those forced by circumstance into a life of servitude and despair. How appropriate that he was recognized by both the United Nations and Amnesty International as a world ambassador for peace and justice.

I met Mohahammed Ali once. I had, of course, seen him many times on television, flashing that infectious smile and spouting his sing-song braggadocio. What do you say to the man who was once the world’s highest paid athlete and most recognized face and name on earth (as an American, everywhere I went in Africa in the late 1970s people who could not speak much English would raise their arms and shout “Mohammed Ali!”)? I managed to mumble something about it being a supreme pleasure to finally meet “The Greatest”.

What I was not prepared for was his handshake. Ali took both my hands in his and I still remember, and often mention, that my hands (I’m 6 foot, 1 inch tall) were engulfed in what seemed to me to be two catcher’s mitts enclosing my hand. I immediately thought of what it would be like to be hit by such huge fists and said so. He laughed and slowly threw one of his famous mock punches.*

“If you are still the same person at 50 as you were at 20 then you have wasted 30 years of your life.” – Mohammed Ali

When you are “The Greatest”, so you shall ever remain.

* In Philadelphia I belonged to the same club as Joe Frazier and his hands were similarly sized. Plus, Frazier was not that tall but his shoulders extended far beyond my own when we would stand face to face. He was built like a moving , giant cinder block.

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Slow News Day

Good thing it was not the Cannibal Chef!
Good thing it was not the Cannibal Chef!

As few of us work on New Year’s Day there is often time to search out the arcane and humorous. Here is what many journalists, yesterday, were calling the greatest headline in the history of The New York Times Newspaper. It appeared in 1922.

I have placed this entry under the category of Food & Drink  but, technically, there was, as far as I know, no drink involved.

 

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The Bankrupt Vaults of Justice

“Insufficient Funds” still the by-words

The 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech has arrived (and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation) and commentators are tripping over themselves lauding the accomplishments springing from the speech, confusing ‘black faces in high places’ with economic progress of the poorest elements of society.

Conflating improvements in segregation/integration with progress in class mobility is not a mistake Rev. Dr. King would have made and neither should we.

This speech, incidentally, is consistently rated by scholars of American history as the country’s most significant 20th century political speech. Once he got talking King deviated from the original prepared speech. Many of his most eloquent passages were extemporaneous injections from prior speeches as comparison of the filmed speech to his original, printed version reveals. This is especially true toward what was supposed to be the end of the speech when the singer Mahalia Jackson blurted out, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.” After a few sentences and Mahalia’s repeated exhortation King moved his prepared lines aside. His training as a black minister came to the fore and the rest, as they say, is history. But, as all history, it is one where black and white Americans see and hear different ideas in the same narrative with identical words.

FBI assistant director William Sullivan, after the speech, noted “We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”

I rode my motorcycle from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to the 25th anniversary celebrations of the March. En route I joined a column of black bikers without knowing who they were, it was just company and a cushion of motor safety on the massively trafficked interstate. When we neared New York Avenue the column got off and, as I was going to the anniversary event, so did I. We all filed into the Mall area and parked. My companions were a biker club from Staten Island, NY. The president had been to the original March in 1963 and was returning with his club members for the 25th.  Very nice.

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The Master-Slave Relationship: More Kinship Than Cruelty?

The Paula Deen Implosion

I have mostly ignored the Paula Deen implosion. But a friend recently sent an email asking if I had seen her appearance at NY City’s October 2012 Wine & Food Festival. While there she gave a videotaped interview with The New York Times Atlanta Bureau Chief and, months before her recent trials and tribulations, it would not have been too difficult to see the mindset that would eventually get her into trouble.

Deen goes into some of her family history with a story of how her great-grandfather “was devastated” after the Civil War. He had lost his son and the war and “didn’t know how to deal with life, with no one to help operate his plantation. You know there was 30 something [35, actually] people on his books” [euphemism for “slaves owned] and then the next year zero. He committed suicide. She goes on to say, “I feel like the south is almost less prejudiced because black folks played such an integral part in our lives, they were like our family.”

(Presumably she was not thinking of dysfunctional families like the one in Cleveland where Ariel Castro is alleged to have kept three women and his child by one of them in captivity, often chained.)

The real highlight and moment of revelation that told me Cholesterol Queen* Deen is largely clueless, like many of her peers, was when she called one of her black employees Hollis Johnson, up to the stage. “He’s black as that board” she said, pointing to the stage backdrop, adding “Come out here Hollis, we can’t see you standing against that dark board!” The audience began to laugh and Hollis came up on stage as Deen talked about him, “This is my son by another father.” He bent over and gave her a peck on the cheek as he departed.

The whole scene was one of those encounters where you feel mightily embarrassed for all the people on stage. Deen, apparently, has no clue to how 21st century race relations ought to be conducted. It was similar to being at a dinner party where someone begins telling racial or ethnic jokes in a mixed-race crowd. It just isn’t done. Period.

See the lengthy New York Times event video here. Go to minute time stamp 40:09 for a look at her learning about her great, great-grandfather’s slave ownership. For her interaction with Hollis Johnson see time stamp 46:07 — 50:07.

*To be fair Paula Deen says she does not advocate eating, on a daily basis, the style of food she has become known for.

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