Legendary comedian Dick Gregory, who maintained a busy role as an activist, died Saturday, Aug. 19. He was 84. (Reuters)

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.


Activist Dick Gregory spoke at a “Justice for Trayvon” vigil in Washington in July 2013. (Mary F. Calvert for The Washington Post )

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

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:  

On America spreading its ideals throughout the world: 

On the KKK:

On bad neighborhoods: 

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