The images that have graced Dick Gregory’s obituaries show the comic-turned activist with a long white beard and a weathered face, educating crowds about the killing of Trayvon Martin or police brutality.
But before his transformation into an activist, Gregory was a man on a stage in front of a sometimes-hostile crowd, making acerbic, insightful jokes about race, segregation and the civil rights movement that still resonate half a century later.
Gregory died Saturday at age 84. The New York Times called him a precursor to comedians such as Richard Pryor, who also used humor to slice through cultural hypocrisies and abject racism.
And Gregory’s jokes lingered, as John Legend, who produced a one-man play on Gregory’s life, told the Boston Globe:
“It sounds like he’s aware of what’s happening now even though they were written so long ago.”
People are still reflecting on some of his insightful punchlines, including:
On Jim Crow laws
RIP Dick Gregory, who was as funny as he was courageous pic.twitter.com/2L3mrVrhzo
— Layla Dhere (@dhere) August 20, 2017
I waited at the counter of a white restaurant for eleven years. When they finally integrated, they didn't have what I wanted. – Dick Gregory
— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) August 20, 2017
On Willie Mays, the Major League Baseball player who was at times a target of racism:
“You know I still feel sorry for Willie. I hate to see any baseball player having trouble. That’s a great sport. That is the only sport in the world where a Negro can shake a stick at a white man and won’t start no riot.”
On how people learn to hate:
— Geneva S. Thomas (@GenevaSThomas) August 20, 2017
On America spreading its ideals throughout the world:
— Roxy War Paint (@TheRoxyWarPaint) August 20, 2017
On the KKK:
"A Klaner (KKK) is a cat who gets out of bed in the middle of the night and takes his sheet with him." – Dick Gregory. Rest in peace.
— betsydee (@betsydee) August 20, 2017
On bad neighborhoods:
"I never believed in Santa Claus because I knew no white dude would come into my neighborhood after dark." ~Dick Gregory #RIPDickGregory
— The Crisis Magazine (@thecrisismag) August 20, 2017