February 5, 2011 8:38:00 PM
On Thursday, Feb. 10, Columbus will play host to one of the most important African-Americans of our time -- Dick Gregory.
The famed comedian and leading civil and human rights activist will speak as part of the Gordy Honors Forum Series at 6 p.m. in Nissan Auditorium on the campus of Mississippi University for Women. The event is free and open to the public.
Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. Seating is on a first-come basis. Groups may reserve seating by contacting Dr. Thomas G. Velek, Gordy Honors College director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-241-6850.
Gregory, born in 1932, is the well-received author of 15 books, a recording artist with seven records, television and film personality, leading nutritionist, and a man totally committed to non-violent social change. He became nationally recognized in the 1960s for a biting brand of comedy that attacked racial prejudice. By addressing his hard-hitting satire to white audiences, he gave a comedic voice to the rising civil rights movement. In the 1980s his nutrition business venture targeted unhealthy diets of black Americans.
From track to stage
Reared in poverty in St. Louis, Gregory entered Southern Illinois University on an athletic scholarship in 1951, excelling as a middle-distance runner. He was named the university''s outstanding student athlete in 1953, the same year he left college to join the U.S. Army.
After a brief return to his alma mater in 1955-56, Gregory sought entrance to the national comedy circuit in Chicago. His breakthrough came in 1961, when a one-nighter at the Chicago Playboy Club turned into a six-week stint that earned him a profile in Time magazine and a television appearance on "The Jack Paar Show." In numerous subsequent television, nightclub and concert routines, he targeted poverty, segregation and racial discrimination.
Activist for change
Active in the civil rights movement, Gregory participated in numerous demonstrations and was arrested for civil disobedience several times; in 1963 he was jailed in Birmingham, Ala. His activism spurred him to run for mayor of Chicago in 1966 and for president of the United States in 1968.
In the early 1970s Gregory abandoned comedy to focus on his political interests, which widened from race relations to include such issues as violence, world hunger, capital punishment, drug abuse and poor health care.
He generated particular attention for his many hunger fasts. At this time he became a vegetarian, a marathon runner and an expert on nutrition. His work in nutrition resulted in the book "Dick Gregory''s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin'' With Mother Nature." He has targeted the lower life expectancy of black Americans, which he attributes to poor nutrition and drug and alcohol abuse.
Gregory''s books include "Nigger: An Autobiography" (1964), "No More Lies: The Myth and the Reality of American History" (1971) and "Callus On My Soul" (2003).