thumbnail of Ralph Gleason interviewing Dick Gregory
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
Dick why did you go to Birmingham. I guess for the same reason I went to Greenwood Mississippi. OK why didn't Mr. survey get on that flight. Well I'm going to read the account of actually what was going on in these areas in the south and I. Think of the three kids that I have been on that the people it's breaking down the barriers down solid not only breaking them down for themselves but breaking them down for myself my wife and my family and I feel that it's part of my job to help them break it down being there all of us will reap the benefits from this. I debated the night before I flew into Greenwood Mississippi simply because I had a new son and I hadn't been able to get back to Chicago to see the boy. And. Mississippi want out because when I lay there and thought that if America had to go to war in the morning I would be willing to go. And when I can go to any of the four corners of the world take a chance on losing my life being away from my loved
ones and to guarantee a foreigner a better way of life I must be able to go on and guarantee that the negro a better way of life. Was there any pressure upon you at all as a performer not to do this. No no one no one knew I was gone but a couple close friends of mine my managers found out after I got there which they would have said anything anyway because we have a relationship where they know they work for me. And my agent works for me. My managers work for me and everyone on my staff including my lawyers on down works for me. So I make the decisions and the policies. Dick we're going to price do you see this move as a role for us as a performer as an artist or as you as a human being you know me as a human being and I've said many times I'm an individual is first an American second negro third but I'm a negro before and so my decision to go into any area or to participate in any affair
I do this as an individual that I have never allowed restrictions in my contracts with club owners that if I'm in town and there's a benefit that I feel is for worthy cause I don't have to cleared with the owners. I try to stay away from the type of benefits that's a concert a form of entertainment. But I will go and do my hiked. Dinner where there's speakers involved I try to stay away from where there's nothing but in attainment. But other than that these restrictions where you can come into the area 60 days before and after. But inevitably your. Public personality as a performer gets involved in that stuff and not with me with you know none whatsoever. Does he get involved with with the people that you work for at clubs or with the audience. No I have I have never found it maybe mainly because I don't look
for it but I have never found it to be so. When you got to Mississippi. Where they aware of you as a performer you're just another individual. What happened was with Mississippi the move that was made that meant so much to Mississippi I could have gone to any area of the South. And less impact because in many areas of the South Dick Gregory was unheard of was unknown because you take the delta area these people average negro take home pay is three hundred dollars a year. He's not reading the type of books that I've been getting write ups in for the last two years. Television he's not 90 percent I do not have a soul but when I flew in the plane load of surplus food into the delta area this is what made Gregory in this area. The police knew this. This is why I never got arrested in Greenwood Mississippi because a lot of the negroes thought I was a preacher. Minnie never
knew I was an untamed. Perhaps I don't know. Oh yes the cops knew that and when I decided to go into Greenwood Mississippi I never realized the impact it would have on the American press. I never knew of the amount of FBI agent that would be coming down because I called by name Aaron Henry in Clarksdale Mississippi when I airlift the food and I don't have too much time of the day to go right back to the Playboy Club in Chicago but I told him your first time I had a couple of days off. I would I would be back and I had a Monday and Tuesday off I was going down to speak Monday night in Greenwood Tuesday in Clarksdale and only after I got in this area and really got to see firsthand what was going on because when I brought the food in I didn't get to see we unloaded it and I got in a car and I went right back to Memphis and jetted out on not until I got there to speak that night. And warts and listened and. I was briefed on a couple things for instance in Greenwood Mississippi where the population is twenty two thousand
white 24000 negro. There's one hospital in the whole town with one hundred sixty eight beds and one hundred and thirty four white one a negro can afford to get sick there. Their little population of 24000 negro there's not one Negro doctor. So when these people decide to march down to this court building and sign their names and identify themselves they also saying that I'm giving up all my medical care because these doctors will not see him anymore mainly because the doctors might not want to because of the pressure that would be put on. So when a person do this for freedom and this opens your eyes. How many of them 25000. We never could find out because you go in and you register to vote. So about a month before they let you go how many have actually passed a test. From looking at the tests they decided no one would pass the test no one would pass
the test because out of the five pages is only actually two questions One is to filling in blanks but they put the article feeling and blank so just such article. The Mississippi constitution writing him you know if you memorize this the second question is the one that throws you. They say now in the space below explain what your interpretation of this means slower if you have the exact interpretation of it when the correct grades of paper. This is not right. So this is a problem that they have. So it mainly ended up being. Demonstration for the first time in a hundred years being able to walk down to the court building and open group with a large group I know I made the comment the data published was real word we had about 50 persons down to register and they would know like I was upset if I was then one is walking along these lines so I have to post the mission I want to be while you found out all these really trying to do is pay the water tax.
When you said things like that to people like him I want their reaction. Oh well this Hammond This is probably one of the most beautiful individual I ever met in my life and he. On the outside he's for the people there but on the inside he has enough sense to know what's going on. And anyone that would call the Greenwood jail for me which I was and they have a lot of people felt I was arrested for going with jail he was in a compound to bring me a message. This bar down to the second day and time was to see who could outwit who and this is what it would bar down to and how does that work. Well one day they would win the next day we would win actually what happened. They stopped I lined the police chief. If you can imagine a guy being so stupid he had to read from a piece of paper he would hold it up he said. We will permit you to go to the court building to register and small groups we are not going to permit large crowds to go to the club and I just saw I am asking you to
break up this large group to go to court going to rise or turn your mind back to the first day we decide to turn back and we caught him by surprise because we they stopped was about two blocks from my headquarters and we all turned back jumped in cars and drove in one of the portability. This was the first picture was released when I had my own so coming back that afternoon we decided we walk. So we walked out of court will make a left turn and this is when it happened. So we put them in causing canim back over that afternoon. And leaving the negro. District is located. You come out of court when you make a left. So they had all the police set up this way so we just a simple matter want in a lot of front line and say look we wait till everyone comes out and we're all right and it's quite a complete about surprise and by the time they had gathered up the string of police that sit down for about 20 blocks and call them all back. We had marched about nine blocks and nothing had happened and the press was there so they had to come up and stop us then after we'd walk so long with no
problems. It was just that I'd heard so eventually they did stop us. They put two other snake leaders in jail put him in a car and haul him off so everyone was one of what we do know so I say will stand on the corner until they bring him back or put us all in jail. So rather than do this they grabbed me and put him in a police car and grab another girl and put her in a police car and still taken to jail the catheters may have caught it. So when the cop stopped a car gave him two dollars he said thank you cabby we jumped in a car we went right back to that car and I told the police commissioner I say look maybe I said if you say I'm under arrest put me in jail I said but if you take me where the new jail is kidnapping. And it is just a running thing and then after I found out the next day they arrested everyone but me. So. I said I. Say to him Look you have my writer and I want to find out the bail was to ban going to be rather I want no I said to you what if you find out real quick for me what the bill will be followed I will walk from here to
the police department station. Now I ask you in front of all your friends I'll call you mister. Something I haven't called you since I've been here. And he love this he said really and this is when the papers read what I was left standing alone and walked by myself I always think about a time at the police station he had he was holding a press conference so they could hear this. So I walked up I put my finger his face. I said Mr. Hammond you told a damn lie on me yesterday. It was just a running thing like this and this is what I called my wife to come home and I called I was very honest with you I said I want to ask you something and there's no love involved it's not husband and wife wife relationship. I'm asking you this. I stared. I'm up against it and this have turned out to be a game of wits they will not arrest me but it will be very embarrassing if they arrested Mrs. Gregory who's been to the hospital two days without their job when you get on a plane and fly and no one will know all but myself you and use your maiden name. So she flew in I sent two guys up to Memphis to meet environ and she marched every day for three days and no one knew she was there and I had already told
us that if they arrest you give me a maiden name and I check with an attorney and I said look what what kind up wrapped in the gravest on but had not given her and he lists legal she can give a maiden name. And at this point they had laid out what this would have been a shocker you know but this is what it this is what it boiled down to we found out that they was find out a lot of our moves from the Negro maids. And you have to understand he's negroes in this area I love these white people that they work for and the white people actually love them. See the difference in the north in the south is in the south. They respect the negro as an individual is they love him as an individual is this wants to do the shift but not hit this when he's in trouble. Boys up north are Negroes respected as a group. I say well I won't want to but if you get your PC pushed through how harmoniously Well we don't want to even get that fouls in the other room. Well let them all come in. Which isn't true but this is the difference in the attitude and the north and the South and what I found out that.
I moved was being tipped off through the maids. Then every night after the church meeting I would ask how many of you here. Works for the white ladies in the daytime and a raise and would take him in a back room and I said Well now let me tell you I said. At about one o'clock Tamar maybe three and we put Times on a piece of paper and say you tell the people you're working for and this is going to happen that this is going to happen by the time they finish checking out the good tips against the bad ones. They eventually gave it up. So then it got down to a point where everyone wanted me out of town so we made a deal with the police to lawyer was there and I would have to try. And I was so late an evening now and this is a Friday. Yes a Friday which may have had the money and by Friday my banks closed in Chicago so I called my office to talk to my attorney and I said Look I'm only about $50000 down here I say transferred into the bank.
So they called me back and they said the bank president and Greenwood say he's not going to handle anything with your name on it so I said well we can get him better than that. We do with Western Union Western Union has an account there and so we have and he would call Western Union Western Union in touch with him rather than do this in Greenwood banks deal until 6 o'clock they closed early that day. So he would have been on it. Anything would come in to Western Union. So now the only thing we have left is probably bombs so we have 20 persons in jail and we're going to probably bond. So we had all the probably bonds legit but eight. So I just found eight guys in the streets where you live and they told me it was your phone number and I'm going to France and what is your number and what's your address and I signed it here and it started so we had a bad problem. So about some o'clock at night I told internist to call Commissioner Hammond and tell him that Dick Gregory's regularly in the negroes will be glad when he got out of town. But he claims he's not going to leave until he gets his right arm. And I say can you get
him out of here tonight. So Hammond says when I call you back. So the judge the judge is home and he says you sure you believe we're given that right and so you say well meet me at the court building. Now it's about 8:30 quarter. So i tell us you know when you go in and tell him that I just can't get my writer out of jail and leave because people Sal came in hysteria stirred up a problem and left. So Tom give us although they want to and the judge wouldn't hear this. So. We've had eight bad property buys get eight. So he walks in and the judge gives him eight and we left town and the rest of them got out the next morning which was Saturday but it was just it just turned into a game of wits This is why I could understand King's move with the kids after they beat you down and clobber you with everything you reach back and watch as a vicious war going on you have to reach back and fight them any way you can. And the first let up you have they will print a paper the movement the negroes are not with this you know this is
the way the story hits. And King was up against something else because in a town like Birmingham where the population is 250000 negroes. Well when you stop and think that you can get is 2000 would seem like the Negro community was not behind it but King could have died oh 20 to 30000 a march down a day. But all he could get was 2000 nonviolent lines this is why he resorted to using the kids. Because I'm not I'm in my first day in town we had to stay in the church for two opcodes while we walked outside and pleaded with the negroes there not to throw any bricks and I said you know if you and we're going to get him in small groups as it was you promise me that you won't. And it almost it's a point where you can't look at it because when these people stand around and see a blast with this whole was you know this is a problem there. When you came back up you know it's. After the first trip what kind of what kind of reaction did you get from people that it was it was it was it was
unbelievable. So the bottom line guy white and colored I never understood what I was doing. The White thought that I shouldn't be talking about this on stage and this is not the fan. There's some guy hears it out read the comments in the paper the negro it felt well you making fun of the race mainly because these things had never been discussed openly. I said All right we've been accused 100 years of can a switchblade All right now let's either admit we got a switchblade accuse them for one and all the missiles you know it's just a simple you know. But just to mention the word switchblade you know this was tabooed. These would have warned us but you'd run into this before and didn't. Didn't you run any of this even before you went down and all I'm saying I'm saying I'm saying I'm trying to. This is the guy I had before and this was the guy and it completely switched. This was the guy when I walked in when I flew into Washington D.C. not travel what about
six to seven hundred pounds of excess baggage so I'm known as a good thing coming to them for they think I'm a good thing because the average guy gets a quarter half a dollar and I know six or seven hundred pounds a log it's going to realize how much luggage you know I haven't. So when I when I go get only $10 on it. So I'm known all over American airports you know they run for me. I got off the airplane walked out and she called one of the one guy looking to see if anybody else see me and he slips away in a run to Holmes to Gregory. Now the attitude I fly to Washington D.C.. I have one real cap waiting on me. I have another one walk up and shake my hand. Frank's for me and. I for you give me a note in my hand. I'm going to walk so far and throw it away and I look at a 20 dollar bill it's the attitude of the white cam drivers the guys the white guys the bellhops and I would tell the guys that is there for the dollar. I can't pay em any more. This is change that I can't pay him.
I've had a guy today that I wanted some shirts. Very hard service good shirts. Laundry on Saturday. So he goes in the place and. He talks these people to do it you know so he can give him $5 you know. I know this is the attitude change is just unbelievable. It was a more pronounced and I will tell you that it was the while point that I still can't understand. I go to Greenwood Mississippi which Birmingham was heaven compared to Greenwood Mississippi because you never knew you lived from second to second in Mississippi. You lived from step to step you never knew when this one guy was going to get you from the rooftop. Whereas in Birmingham he didn't have this feeling. Now I go to Greenwood Mississippi and the first time in the history of the South a Negro was untouchable.
And this made the whites look at me like I was God who is this guy that he will not arrest. When I would walk into the court building and the clerks. And the secretaries would slip out Oh if I stood outside he would come and look at the wall and look through the window that would hate. But like. There he is. Right there. You know. So mentally it was a lot accomplished in Mississippi. Just going in by there making a mistake not to arrest me now. It was mixed emotions of no. And I go to Birmingham which my life was in very good shape because I was arrested after I got there. I had it made in Birmingham I could sleep. I could not sleep in green will it want to Clarksdale me pitched a bomb in a church. And as I sit there. Knowing this is it but the bomb didn't go off. And then to see the Police Chief Clark there walking in and tell me he says you know Bobby Kennedy call a man responsible for your life personally and I promised him that he
wouldn't get killed here and I said well I'm not worried about you. Any police chief would hire three negroes and take them out of jail and let him beat up three white boys like happened here last week. Three white fellows from University of Ottawa have decided to drop some food. And this is what happened. He's allowed to take you to court and sue you for this. I see where you attitudes change because 10 years ago you had lynched. Are you going to take me to port. So we had to get out of town that night we found I was a roadblock set up on the highway I thought so which meant we had to stay in an Eagles home. We didn't know who to trust. We got into the trunk of a car. And told got to drive around and look and we would stay and he told us what would St. James would sleep while laying on the floor and watch this guy make sure he would go to the phone and call. And I would sleep well James laid on the floor to watch this guy to make sure he wouldn't go because after we found out that there were Negroes there. That was typin tip in all so we because the affray it solely because they
don't know what's going to happen tomorrow and they assume that this guy knows they involved. Now when I go to Birmingham and I'm in jail. Three hours after I get there my life's in pretty good shape. I can sleep in Greenwood Mississippi I couldn't sleep for six whole six days I was there because she just she just could not let a you know what it feels like all it wants. Being in a time. Where if a guy walked up to me you know racial overtones and say this has got some brainless Robin. I couldn't call the police. You know what this feels like one day when you go where and as I looked at my wife was there a group of men wanted to rape her. I can call the police this is the situation in describing an occupied country. What this is this is what it was. So now we're going into Birmingham and going into jail there. And then come back and there is no one have asked me since Birmingham.
Have hinted on the interviews that a lot of people say this might have been for publicity. Now Birmingham was the easiest one but the Birmingham was the one that took home the doubt and this was the one that I decided I would stay out of because of the the the press and because of so many people felt it was for publicity and I looked at it about as much of it is not good and then I decided to call King and I said look I had a problem Justice Department it was when you going in you know what do you think you can do. And I said well I just want to be there with them. And I when I go in I do not go in to make the policies I'm not aware of what's going on and I have they say will degrade your strong fight a phone call we want to negotiate an agreement with you to Birmingham. I couldn't use my wildest imagination and to dream that I have segregated elevators. I could never bring myself to believe that the the
sitting rooms where you changed to be fitted for some shoes are segregated So these are things I'm not aware of but is that look out in the street. This is what I'm going to be with this one here we don't want to expose with the ones going to jail and this is the attitude of the north. It's like people say well it took a lot of guts to do it but you never know. Well after going into Greenwood Mississippi takes guts to stay out to sea in this you know and you pick up the paper you read where. 20 person was arrested. But when you're there and you know out of the 20 or 12 of them are a huge range from age 98 to 64 she would I beat as high blood pressure heart trouble one night in jail would kill him. Away from the insulin to eat the food to bring in the salt in it. When your blood condition is so bad and then to find out that this you know that we love you people get 216. We don't let you out yet the promise is that you
won't come back. Can I say I can promise you I will be back. You have that amount anyway but these are the things that you don't see these are the things that you don't feel. I think Newsweek magazine and I don't know if the guy really knew what he had betrayed the feeling more of what's going on. So a little small article where this guy was interviewing one of the sharecroppers we asked him is how much money you have and the guy didn't know he had to go get his cookie jar and counted on him to find I only have a dollar. So how much do you have coming in if I have about ten dollars coming in this weekend. The guy had 11 kids. I'm going to yak with three beds he explained. Only time it creates good milk is when you go to school. Oh this reporter not a reporter. So if I could give you the one thing right now anything you would want what would you ask for. And this guy said.
It's not the law the guy has been fighting the battle in the most appropriate thing to say his freedom because he has come to help with this is a guy here that had He's They had milk for the kids too to get out of this place here. Better education for the kids you have to have freedom. This means riches may grow in America. He wants this for him. This guy has nothing. This is the attitude of the South. Have you been in contact since you left and really been contact with any of these people know what happened. Yes you know what. I changes. Well you know taken place I had I'm sitting in my research department back down now to see to find out I see what it was going on down there. But I have taken such a hell of a financial beating. I guess this have cost me my just in not going to close to $40000 and
plane fares and salaries. See it cost me something like twenty five hundred dollars a week just for my staff writers room at home the car and everything. So when you block this time out in the schedule you know. You not only losing but you still have this payroll to meet and I sent the researchers and to Mississippi they got there about a week before I was there and they are very helpful because when I got in town the one white fellow who the number one research for me. Well he walks in town and I hear Mrs. Prescott I think he's going to be on the mare. I shared too much of Dick Gregory the comedian know something's coming which is going to happen when you hear him. We don't let that nigga talk and then tomorrow we're going to make a statement. And. Show he's a troublemaker. By the way it's all prepared here here's one I when I get in a guy works for me. I go for make the speech I have what they're going to release to the
press. So I make in a speech that night in the church I said you know after being around one of these low down studio officials it's like being around all of them I said you can I can I can. Hey you've got one thing I'll say to mom. And I right now hurtful words is like. So he goes in the next day. And he says you know this is the strangest individual I've met my Holland the world. Could he guess what we have. And when the Polish grabbed me he walked in the sheriff's office as he had a big record out there you should've beat the hell out of his host. You don't see that feet again and the grabbing might lose his job now and then this is when I knew I could have my way. But on each end of town and then you know exactly what's going on you know every move. Now how does this affect you as a professional performer it would seem to me that a nightclub on it's going to hire you. I. Says to myself I hired Dick Gregory how do I know he's not going to split.
Well I mean he has no guarantee I will just cause you any problems with like you know you know around the world and I know. And Rico called me up very sympathetic. He says Will you be able to open up 20. And I said oh you know I thought you had the message because when the guy from one of these never says got papers was in Birmingham and I to him I would make him a gauge of you know one time I would be there. I can guarantee you know no more guarantee than you have then sign me on a contract on where I want three never normally draft. Same difference. Do you see this is World War 3 and. This is the most vicious was ever known in history a man was here once and I would all go and call the police on the dogs and the law on their side and the other side have no emanation and will not fight that they were in the DI against
these soldiers for the right to vote the right for dignity and the right to be I want to be counted as a man. They gang up a tree this to me the most was a guy by the name of Sanders in Mississippi. He says we were using his home I would go and make phone calls. So he said I have a son in Chicago you know just to pacify a guy I say oh you know I want to relieve you sure let me know where I live I might say hello. So this went on and on and on so I believe they were I say don't forget to get the number I have for God you know. So I walked over to his house not to get the number to use the phone again and he says he's my son's and I said Oh yes I'll call him so I could tell him hello for you. He says yeah tell him that a lady folks here simply is pretty frightened. I was frightened. Tell him I think eighty or ninety seven years old he said. It was the first time I've ever lived to tell him Dad is ready to
die. I wanted I would feel like to live and tell him that you young people going to leave you have to leave because we can't expect you to stay in this one area you have to go and shield just all the peoples in the south. But tell me when you leave they're going to ask for some things and tell them I'm going to tell them and the guy say it as if all. The whites was reading off the indictment he said tell them I'm going to tell them that. No negro wrote the Constitution it was all engineered by white minds of America. Oh had we had anything to do with it you might could say we tricked you. We didn't. You told peoples all over the world they suggest the Constitution and always stand with just tell us. And also tell him that. We're not trying to get ahead of him. We just fighting for the right to walk down the
street side by side. I think you summed it up. You know. And. You sit there and you know you want to that is I sit in the church every night and I watch these people and I see a woman walk she say Mr. Gregory I don't want to embarrass you but I want to go but can I can muster enough camels you know and just the people coming out of the house with the biscuit dough on my hand and they can really cook some biscuits. We will march in my house before they knew what it was in the line. And then to sit and listen a woman to you know in the way I have. I can't read or write. Just going I. Probably couldn't pass the test if it was legal in the hood but I'm watching what you know. I want to die with you on this mine. I said why I said because I need to you have never been able to walk down town. On the sly and then have to move from no assistance.
And then you find out that the Southern negro. Is the individual that's going to save America because he's the only one that has a purpose a meaning and now we're getting the same reaction that maybe these countries are beautiful when the founding fathers first got here this is the attitude that this is what we want and this is what we get when you finish with your polies dogs and you want to hold us and fill up all you still want. And I have to see it you have to sing it like that and. Experiencing it as you have as a shot to come of the city life San Francisco is a shock to come back up north because you have to keep kicking yourself in the tail to keep from hating me nor the Negroni northern white. Because this is everybody's job and the attitude. AP. I hear so many
negroes that say if I was down there this is what I would do. And they sincerely mean this what is so well. Known Negro that I knew. I would talk about what they was going to do and how bad and mean they were until Martin Luther King started preaching nonviolence. Then all we want you had the other end that say well I can be nonviolent before this thing that was said until he said this is the route we will take and I try to portray it this way to the friends that I know that they would have to fight back. Violence is the way. And I tell them talk to police and Chicago I say look your policeman. I said what would happen to you if you shot and killed a 14 year old white boy and it just messed it up. So you'd be in trouble. So even here with the law and a badge and a gun you have to be careful about who you shoot. So what do you think it is not. Knowledge is the only way.
Which I think you almost have to go there and find out. Whereas up north if a white man slapped me slapped anything well I pulled a gun or any other name local who shot this white man and killed him. The police is going to come out and they're going to lock up he did. We agree on the individual that's responsible for the murder. This is different and the solve. If a white man slapped a negro a negro shot him back they are going to get a new guy. Big difference and I asked him how would you feel if you got into an area in the south. The sheriff spit in your face and you killed him and got away. I had to live with the fact that the night that you were leaving. Ten Negro kids was Len's. Could you do with a jest price to pay and that's the difference in the south when Nagel Roma white they just want a nothern equal period. This will satisfy them whereas Up north
we pride ourselves on getting the right one and not being happy until we get the right one. This is why the nonviolent movement. Have to be not just in the beauty and I'm not a movement. Look at people. That's woman to go through all of that. Another Be better. And these people are not better. And look at something that they have a bit unbelievable. And they were very concerned about me. You can't knock this woman down 98 years old and she thought about grouches. What about you Mr. Graham. I love it I just want to make you mad. When I met you. This is what goes on. And they apply this nonviolent technique in the US. Oh yes definitely. But it's going to be a heck of a different attitude because we have always been white and they grew up like I have always used Mississippi as the garbage can. The racial problem. And when
Mississippi put a lid on their garbage can. You might have thought in your own backyard. It's going to smell and I don't know what the reaction is we don't have the type of leaders of knowledge within that family negro leadership up north having south because up north when a guy begins to break through as a leader to make him a politician. And the white people downtown buys him. This is why we have no true leaders of North at all. All in politics and they all down and they don't open their mouth. You heard anything from Dawson and say anything is a negro who was elected by name but the whites had tied his hand and so you get more white reaction. Up north and you city councils about being unfair and you get from the negroes and this is the problem. There was Kennedy and the Kennedys have they been really useful and I and Mississippi are beautiful just so beautiful I don't even realize if they
knew it when I sent in the FBI agents who were just there to observe and were preparing the cases getting ready to go in and they had a different type of thing going on. A new rule is going to register to vote if you block this they can stop trying cases I see here is much different from marching to demonstrate a certain thing in green what we had tied in directly there. They made a lot of mistakes on Birmingham many many mistakes the watered down statements they never did come right out and take a stand on exactly positive what it was and then again when you sit back and think of the representative from Louisiana Elliot at the head of the Rules Committee. So if Kennedy bugs this guy anyway he'll get a bill through all year. What about this guy they want to get into the house.
So maybe this was the reason they made so many mistakes but they made many many mistakes on bombing too many. Do you see any hope in the hinterland of time. Well yes I think they realize the mistakes they made. I think now of course anything that happens now you've got a different thing going because it's happening so quick. This is a thing that's defined a lot of the so-called liberals. Let's take time. You have a thing now where Birmingham seemed just the other day. But since Birmingham Have you had a ruling from the Supreme Court so you can't use your state local police to block integration where there's laws that demand segregation. So automatically Birmingham started again and I was there. The federal government can come in and deal with him directly now because this law is almost as you know whereas two weeks ago I was not. So it's hard to say what's going to happen. We read in the papers and columns and some of the reports about the activities of
so-called moderate lights in Birmingham. Are these real. I don't know actually see I arrived in Birmingham Monday at 11:30 want to go and I was in jail. I got out that Thursday. And Friday I flew back to Chicago. And I flew right back in to Birmingham which was there that Saturday when they announced a truce and I flew right out that Saturday night. So actually what goes on in Birmingham I couldn't tell you. What did you learn from this yourself. Oh I don't know I think I got more book personal satisfaction out of it or than learn anything. I put the period behind the sentence that was left open. Like really should I be here. Can I help you read so much what he said outside agitators Medlen. And if you stop me thinking say when if this is true I want to.
And then you find out that you know I was that and you take it as your problem and you not Mendelian you know more than. America metal in Japan during World War Two. And you know in World War Two this is a job we do and that's right and this is where my convictions were. And I learned one thing that I will goal any day any are for the same cause. Can you carry that out. In your life in the north. No I can't. I would have to see the beauty in the people that I actually was looking at there. I have to see the guy that I. Those who get about medical care. Good to see you guys would say well yeah. Today's my day to go to work today payday will be with a crowd of people you have a lot of we can get to groceries in verse and with you I would pick up the big kids
and your life not theirs ever tell me so I'm going to Birmingham on my vacation. You wait for your vacation and then go home. How can you change. Time. Well you can change it. I think it's got I think when that cell. Frees themselves of the law then that will free himself because all he wants he will see see we've always put down the sign. Now when the style dries up and clear itself when we very disappointed his life is like if you see a cab driver namely his tail and you can see two or two. It was a ruse and you check you snow fall. Who's this guy. Was he cannot deny him. This is going to change the attitude of I'm not. Going to change it overnight. Can you use this experience of yours and your work professionally. I know when you commercialize on anything for one I
think all the great writers have found out that Hemingway's suffered many years because when you commercialize you have to water down the truth. He stood there with a commercial audience. Television I think puts raise it more than you feel. Why is it I can go on television and I'm like a Jack Paar Show interview show I can say some wild things because he asked me and I think he had much more wilder than it is to stand out on the standup spot and do want to act. Same jokes porn it is ever. But you don't get a reaction when you walk out and stand there and start talking. You can state honest convictions on interview shows where you can't when you have done a stand up spot. There's a difference. But isn't the SNC experience of your life the whatever this experience is the food for your performance.
Yes what I can say it but it have to be in such a way that 90 percent of the audience sometimes. When I was there I made a statement and everybody made a joke that up above because I knew. And if you check back with the early papers from the first day of the press conference when I made a statement I said Governor Wallace will be in jail before I would have people that I was a joke. Remember that. Well I meant that but it was not off as a joke I made a column. UPI AP picked it up of course because this is Governor Wallace would be in jail before well when I was a joke. I meant that. But you can say many things under the under the wing of humor guys if you mean you know this is very true. But still you still water down you you know this is a difference and I look at a movie to me probably one of the worst movies I've ever looked at in my life.
This was free white and 21. I felt disappointed in myself that I could be trapped me and to see something like this. And you know what really made the movie bad. There was no acting. You know it's the things we do in every day life. But automatically when I walked into night had I been going to this movie knowing I was seeing a true case I was framed in the court room. And then I go in with a different attitude. But I went in really not knowing what I wanted to be entertained and I want to see them act and I didn't realize it until you just didn't see it. Actually I believe they used two attorneys and the judge I mean every now and then there would be the camera would catch him and he would just be looking like any ordinary judge not composed not looking the way the image. You know you have a judge supposed to look and this is the same thing with entertainment that people go in with a different attitude with him than they are
when they go and hear speech it's the same thing with I can walk about a nightclub floor and work to 10000 of the world's biggest bigots and when I'm all over him if I don't get one laugh I'm a defeated man because I'm a comic. While I'm up and this is what I live for. Now is it different if I walk in to make a serious speech and everybody laugh at me I'm a defeated man. Maybe attitudes run so close together but still there is that dividing line on this. And this is why when you commercialize your commercial and a guy walks in and he's paid his three fifty. You are a servant to him. He's in there to see you. He paid at the door. He didn't come in free. And this is why entertainers seem like such a strange lot of people a lot of people say well you stick money don't mean everything. And I hear this from people very close to me and I say you know you had to take
off and work has been in hospital. I know. Under normal conditions I could have felt like quite as bad and been in the hospital. But you never know there's one guy that bought him a new suit and got a haircut and gotten his car and drove 90 miles to sneak in and things are different. I had this happen when I was in a nightclub. I left Greenwood Mississippi the first club I play in a New York and this is why I led up to where a guy Fard me. They introduced me as Dick Gregory. Great Dick Gregory. Right from Greenwood Mississippi and would like to ask you to give him a standing ovation. I didn't feel like walking out on the stage. I was bugged I walked up I said I want a mike I want them all walk up to him and I said look my personal life. Leave off the stage and do some music with a comic
so I don't know why I said to you why I have no guarantee that the guy I said man is from Mississippi that resented everything about dad in Mississippi. But he came in the nightclubs and I see degrade with a common and I can us this kind of stand up vocal and a little bit and you know I mean I can you ask this guy to stand up. You're not being fair to him. You knew that commercial you know and I feel if I may use the word when I walk up on the stage I'm Prost to myself because I'm done with a price. And this is the sole reason I've been out of the working free. I'm paying to rant and I'm done. And all the luxuries I mean and I think you are obligated. These people to a certain extent as far as showman she is going to and as far as entertaining these people because many people sit in our audience have more problems than you have and they merely there to escape you know Xscape and it's the same
thing. If you come to my home. Right. I've been over backwards for you. I let your kids do things in my house I wouldn't let mine do right. I let your kid walk up on the the chair whereas my own would be a hell of a spank and I'll let your kid eat without washing their hands as your kids are going to help us by again. I will let your kid come and snatch the telephone off the hook. Well I wouldn't mind doing this because you are in my home right when I mean that my club and you call me at my home when I walk off the nightclub floor. When you walk up to me and you talk to me and I shoot straight from this you know. Now it's only lucky that works hard and associating themselves with the right people. I can walk up on that stage and stay as close to the truth. And I've been able to stay to stay there and still
entertain. I've had some that slips through it. Some had reached through it and they don't know all that I know what they mean it hurts me when they walk up they say Mr. Gregory I cried listening to you you're not a funny man. That's one that I was unable to fool. I had an incident and what really woke me up. That's when I really began to hit it big in Chicago. To play Barker we pack in a man. And I had the goal to do a benefit all Jewish affair. Now all top entertainers. It was on the big comics Henny Youngman Jackie Leonard and I'm standing out waiting to go on a no and when I go on I want to destroy this audience because I know what's going to happen to playbook. I'm walking up and I have to win like I mean I have to get back to my show I can do five minutes
and I laid the strongest fives and get me the strongest laugh I didn't hear like I want five more minutes. I ended up working and now I get paid it's 50 minutes. I'm ahead. I still write to myself really bug. I'm not coming off and I stayed on for five minutes and when I walk now I kind of stand in awe. How this caught me by surprise. And on the way back to the club I realized this is the first 100 percent Jewish audience I have worked and they understand I never had an audience that understands what I'm talking about 100 percent. This is their problem and it wasn't funny. I didn't fool them. They read in between that line and got what I'm saying is so funny but when I said that I recall so many people I switched on my best friends a call it was not that many of us to go
Ralph Gleason interviewing Dick Gregory
Producing Organization
KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Contributing Organization
Pacifica Radio Archives (North Hollywood, California)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/28-k649p2wm6m).
Comedian and author Dick Gregory discusses his participation in the civil rights movement, focusing on his experiences in Greenwood, Mississippi, during voter registration demonstrations. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph Gleason conducted the interview at the Pacifica Radio KPFA studios in Berkeley, California, shortly after Gregory arrived in San Francisco to keep a nightclub engagement. Gregory eloquently discusses nonviolence in the southern civil rights movement, the game of who could outwit who that he engaged in with Greenwood police, differing racial attitudes North and South, and effects of his activism on his career as an entertainer.
Social Issues
Race and Ethnicity
Public Affairs
African Americans--Civil rights--History
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Interviewee: Gregory, Dick
Interviewer: Gleason, Ralph
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Pacifica Radio Archives
Identifier: 2347_D01 (Pacifica Radio Archives)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Pacifica Radio Archives
Identifier: PRA_AAPP_BB0826_Ralph_Gleason_interviewing_Dick_Gregory (Filename)
Format: audio/vnd.wave
Generation: Master
Duration: 0:54:08
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Ralph Gleason interviewing Dick Gregory,” 1963-06-23, Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 1, 2021,
MLA: “Ralph Gleason interviewing Dick Gregory.” 1963-06-23. Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 1, 2021. <>.
APA: Ralph Gleason interviewing Dick Gregory. Boston, MA: Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from