Original photographer:
Charles Harbutt
Charles Harbutt

Contemporary
photographer:
Bill Ganzel

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Dick Gregory – The "Fool" Uses His Wit to Awaken Young Whites

Dick Gregory in 1968

"This fellow is wise enough to play the fool, and to do that well craves a kind of wit … a practice as full of labor as a wise man's art" – William Shakespeare. Photo by Charles Harbutt, June 1968.

Dick Gregory in Selma, March 2012

Dick Gregory at age 80 performing and rallying civil rights activists at the 2012 Selma Jubilee Bridge Re-enactment celebration. In his oral history interview, Gregory talks about how he became involved in civil rights and his on-going efforts to change the system. Photo by Bill Ganzel, March 2012.

In 1968, author Thomas Barry wrote that "[Dick] Gregory knows he is not really the Fool. 'Fools don't try to change systems,' he says. 'They try to explain and present them.' And Gregory wants some changes… Gregory is trying to show white America its peculiar madness."

LOOK quoted Gregory saying, "This country is so sick, the riots [in Detroit in 1967] have actually helped … or are you trying to tell me Henry Ford hired 6,000 niggers last winter as a reward for cooling it in Detroit in 1967?"

In March 2012, Dick Gregory was about to turn 80 and is still trying to show America its peculiar madness. He regaled audiences at the annual Selma Jubilee Bridge Crossing celebration with his mixture of side-splitting humor and cutting insight.

"Had it not been for Selma, there wouldn't have been Obama in the White House," he says. But Gregory doesn't agree with everything Obama has done. "That white woman that shook her finger in front of Obama's face," he says, "I ran for President in '68. I wish she'd have shook her finger in my face – I'd of ate her hand. [The crowd at Selma screamed with laughter.] Gimme some barbecue sauce! Oooh, this tastes good. Take the other hand and put it in my mouth, huh?"