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The great Dick Gregory and a case for keeping it real.

January 26, 2015 by  
Filed under Ent., News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( Around the time that “The Cosby Show” was becoming America’s top-rated TV program in the mid 1980s, my dad gave me a quick, impromptu history lesson about Bill Cosby and Dick Gregory.

Dad told me that while Cosby and Gregory came up as comics around the same time, and were friends, Cosby was able to rise to a higher level of stardom because his color-neutral comedy was more digestible for mainstream American than the hard hitting social commentary that Gregory often served up to audiences.

My takeaway from dad’s message was that “keeping it real” was not the pathway to mega success for any black man in America.  I took the message to heart, but it did not make me dislike Bill Cosby.  As a teenager at the time, I had enjoyed seeing Cosby in JELL-O® Pudding ads, and watching him guest host the “Tonight Show” also was a great treat. The emergence of “The Cosby Show’s” popularity was further proof to me that Bill Cosby was an all-around good guy. The high achieving, wholesome Huxtable clan was like no other African American family that we had seen on TV. I also appreciated the subtle symbols of black power like the occasional guest billcosbyanddickgregory-2015appearances by legendary jazz artists and the anti-apartheid poster on young Theo Huxtable’s bedroom door. And in 1988, while still the star of the top-rated television show, Bill Cosby and his wife Camille donated $20 million to Spelman. The gift was the largest single contribution ever made to a black college.

However, while I was admiring everything positive that Mr. Cosby appeared to be, my dad’s talk also prompted me to learn more about Mr. Gregory.  In doing so, I found out that long before Cosby was a guest host on the “Tonight Show,” Gregory declined invitations to appear on the “Tonight Show” hosted by Jack Parr until the show agreed that he could sit on the sofa after his stand-up performance and actually talk to Parr. This made Dick Gregory the first black guest to be granted this “honor.” I also learned that Dick Gregory was friends with Martin Luther King, Medgar Evans and Malcolm X; delivered food to N.A.A.C.P. offices in the South; and marched in Selma, Ala. He may not have had fancy sweaters, or the most watched show on TV, but I learned that Dick Gregory was a pretty cool dude, too, and that his commitment to people in need was very real.

In the year’s following The Cosby Show’s reign as the toast of primetime TV, my views on Mr. Cosby began to change. Like many I was deeply disturbed by the remarks he delivered at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Better known as the “Pound Cake” speech, Cosby told the world that the “lower economic and lower middle economic people are not holding their end in this deal.” He made his proclamation in the most mean spirited of ways, while showing no connection to struggling masses of black people in our nation and the history and conditions that have caused this suffering. A few years later Cosby made visits to my proud city, Detroit, supposedly to support better public education for our K-12 students. However, he did so alongside an emergency manager who had been placed in power by the governor, not the citizens of Detroit. Once again, Cosby appeared to be preaching and talking down to the masses without making a real attempt to connect with our people on a human level.

Some may say that the negative press Cosby is currently receiving over sexual assault allegations dating back many years is connected to bad karma he has reaped for displaying a lack of compassion for hurting people. I don’t know if this is true, but I do feel that more African Americans would have deeper compassion, if not belief in Cosby, if he had used his platform to truly made a heartfelt connection with the totality of the black community—warts and all—during his long career. And I say this with all due respect to any woman linked to the sexual assault allegations who may have been harmed by Cosby.

While the Cosby saga plays out, Dick Gregory continues to live a life that is deeply steeped in activism and service to others. Mr. Gregory remains a supporter of the underdog, which ironically has even included a call for “due process” in response to the allegations against Cosby. But more often than not, Mr. Gregory keeps it real by being an advocate and agitator for our masses. As stated on his “Global Watch” website, Mr. Gregory and his wife Lil (Lillian) made an agreement, “We promised ourselves that black folks would always come first.”

Staff Writer; Scott Talley

This talented journalist is owner of a public relations firm; Scott Talley & Associates, Inc….


2 Responses to “The great Dick Gregory and a case for keeping it real.”
  1. Kay Rodabaugh Reyes says:

    In around 1954 in my father’s (Dr. Louis D Rodabaugh) Math of Finance class at Southern Illinois University, Mr. Gregory, from the back of the classroom, announced that he would be a millionaire and have run for President before he was 40 years old and would garnish at least a million votes. In the still segregated US at the time, Mr. Gregory’s assertions were not taken seriously by his classmates. But before his 40th birthday, Mr. Gregory had, indeed, accomplished all of the above!
    My father moonlighted as a bandleader and stand-up comedian. Mr. Gregory and Daddy would often interject some humour into the class by sharing jokes. My father would comment to me years later that that classroom, that semester was the funniest one spot on the planet.
    Mr. Gregory and Daddy also held philosophical discussions. Once Mr. Gregory shared with Daddy that these discussions had had a great impact on his life and views.
    My father never waivered in his great admiration for Mr. Gregory and was extremely proud of his association with Mr. Gregory right up to Daddy’s passing two years ago, just over a month from his100th birthday.
    Indeed, all of our family hold Mr. Gregory in utmost esteem.

  2. reality_check says:

    Like it or not, Cosby was 100% correct in excoriating the black community. I’m getting tired of black people complaining about his comments and not deconstructing the comments. Don’t attack the messenger. And, yes, stealing is wrong no matter the reasons you did it. I know better and YOU know better. Even though the system makes it easy for black people to choose the wrong thing over the right, that doesn’t negate the fact that the choice is YOURS and yours alone. You think Dick Gregory would advocate stealing? Cosby is just more vocal than Gregory, but I bet they both would discourage criminal behavior.

    Did you read Cosby’s book “Come on People?” Or are you basing your opinions on some sound bites you saw 11 years ago? You may not want to recognize it but our shyt stinks! Cosby was right in emphasizing personal responsibility in the black community. The ‘hooked on phonics’ example is a perfect one. How many black parents do you know that would rather buy their children stupid toys and material things than invest in their education? How many do you know will buy their children cell phones, tablets, xboxes and all this crap before they buy them educational books? I know PLENTY, and I’m sure you do too. So don’t get mad at Cosby when he says we need to re-prioritize. He’s RIGHT!

    It boggles my mind how seemingly intelligent African Americans are all in their feelings when speaking about Cosby’s comments, instead of being realistic. If we continue on this path, where do you think we will end up? I guess as a show of love that you (presumably) have for blacks, you’d rather excuse their pathology and blame everything on the ‘system’ meanwhile we spiral down to the pits of hell?

    Cosby is speaking out of true love and concern for black people. It’s a shame that the black educated FOOLS can’t see that.

    Oh and regarding Detroit: your people that that EM because Detroiters failed to get out and vote for the 2010 gubernatorial election that saw Rick Snyder’s victory. Just like they failed to vote in the 2014 election as well. So as much as I’d like to join you in scream “FOUL” blacks as a collective, again, make the WRONG DECISIONS. If you don’t participate you get decisions made FOR YOU.

    You should be thanking Cosby that he cares enough about the people to try and wake them up. Instead, you and you ilk would rather kill the message and let the people continue on a path of self-destruction. Where is the love in that?

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