Before Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle, Steve Harvey and Chris Rock, there was Dick Gregory. He was one of the first to use comedy as a tool to wake up people about the social and political ills that plague our society. In addition to being a comic, Gregory is also a Civil Rights and social activist (he marched with Dr. King), a weight-loss and nutrition guru, and entrepreneur. Nigger is his autobiography, which sold more than a million copies.
: Below is an excerpt from the book. Here’s the context: Martin Luther King Jr had a dream in August 1963. A few weeks later a black Church in Alabama was bombed and 4 Little Girls died. Dick Gregory went to Alabama… mad. He writes, “I had always gone down south scared. But in September, when I went down to Alabama, Whitey had a mad Negro on his hands.”
He walked into a Church that had been tear-gassed a few days before and got up on stage in front of a crowd of scared Negroes. They needed courage. The front rows of the Church were filled with policemen pretending to be newspaper reporters and taking notes. He told that audience how surprised he was to see a dumb southern cop who knew how to write. The crowd got nervous. They had never heard such talk in front of a white man before.
Here is some of what he said that night. The clear logic is brilliant (and funny) and the end result from the crowd filled me with joy. Jesus’ words are so true; truth really does set people free:
The crowd looked at each other and giggled nervously.
A southern white man. Only thing he has to be able to identify with is a drinking fountain, a toilet, and the right to call me a nigger.
They liked that. A few people clapped, and somebody yelled: “You tell ‘em, brother.”
Every white man in America knows we are Americans, knows we are Negroes, and some of them know us by our names. So when he calls us a nigger, he's calling us something we are not, something that exists only in his mind. So if nigger exists only in his mind, who's the nigger?
The crowd laughed and they clapped.
Now let's take it one step farther. This is a Bible here. We know it's a book. Now if I sat here and called it a bicycle, I have called it something it is not. So where does the bicycle exist? In my mind. I'm the sick one, right?
And they were cheering now, and screaming and laughing and the white cops up front looked pale.
The crowd wasn't afraid of them.