The family of Civil Rights leader and icon Dick Gregory celebrated his life and legacy on September 16 at the City of Praise Family Ministries, with the “Dick Gregory Tribute Parade” following in Washington, D.C. the next day.
Richard Claxton Gregory, born on October 12, 1932, was a political humorist and author (“Nigger, Callus on My Soul”) . He passed away at age 84 on August 19.
Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson opened the celebration with a video tribute. City of Praise Bishop Joel Peebles and Pastor Ylawnda Peebles welcomed everyone and prayed that the family carries his mantle, and that the grace upon it spreads to them.
Christian Gregory welcomed all on behalf of their entire family. He dispelled rumors that his father died of a heart attack. “My father’s blood vessels were damaged to a very significant degree from the years of not fasting for health or nutritional reasons, but for starving himself to bring attention to the ugliness in the world,” stated Christian Gregory.
“We thank him for a life of sacrifice. While we celebrate his life, we also acknowledge all of the suffering, all of the pain, but then all of the glory,” he stated.
Special guests who joined the humanitarian’s adored wife of 58 years, Lillian Estelle Gregory, and their 10 children, included the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, who gave the eulogy, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, entertainer Stevie Wonder, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Myrlie Evers-Williams (wife of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers), Dr. C.T. Vivian (Civil Rights leader), India Arie, and many more. Entertainer Bill Cosby and wife Camille, received an extended standing ovation as they merely walked through the massive church’s sanctuary.
Pastor Mark Thompson facilitated the six-hour ceremony, which was filled with testimonies by people from all walks of life about lessons learned from Gregory.
Gregory was one of those sent from above to be a guide, a teacher, a friend, an activist, a giver, a sufferer, one of the most marvelous human beings he has had the privilege of meeting during his 84 years of life on the planet, stated Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan.
During his message of respect, love, guidance, and encouragement, he shared that met Gregory 52 years ago in New York, he shared. He uplifted Mrs. Gregory as a stellar helpmeet whose great sacrifice helped produce the man so many love. He thanked the Gregory family for the great honor and privilege of asking him to be the eulogist for a man that is so difficult to describe.
“When one of those kind of stars are brought out of the universe to come among us, the purpose of their life is a sense of mission to change the harsh reality that they find when they come to birth in a world like this,” Farrakhan stated.
Gregory is called ‘Baba’ today, because he’s with the ancestors, but are here because some ancestors paid the price that they should be, he said. “So, if we’re too weak and cowardly to speak to the living on behalf of the dead who cannot speak for themselves, Dick Gregory spoke for the living, and he spoke for the dead,” said Farrakhan.
There’s a day of destiny for each exiting their mother’s womb, he continued. “Funerals are not for the dead. They’re reminders to the living that one day, we will be in this condition and we want to know what have you done with the time and the life that the creator gave you as a gift from himself,” Farrakhan stated, as attendees applauded.
He told attendees, if all had faith as Gregory did, they could change the world overnight. Gregory was a man of faith and his faith made him one of the greatest men in their time, Farrakhan said.
He encouraged, “Dear family, lift up your hearts. He’s physically gone, yes. But spiritually, you want to hear from your father? Close your eyes and remember things that he said to you, his laughter, his short, crisp spankings. He’ll always be with you ’til the end of your days, and he will be with me in my heart ,’til I take my last breath and I pray that when that time comes, my work on this earth will speak for me as his work speaks for him.”
Ayanna Gregory performed an original song for her father, then later sang with Stevie Wonder. There were musical tributes from the Morgan State University Choir, drumming, and African dance, comic relief from Gregory’s nephew, Mark, and more.
Rain Pryor (daughter of Richard Pryor), Ilyasah Shabazz (daughter of Malcolm X), Martin Luther King, III. (son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), and Reena Evers-Everette (daughter of Medgar Evers), also paid tribute afterward.
King, III. uplifted Gregory as mentor and father figure. “I think it’s very interesting that just yesterday in the City of St. Louis where Dick Gregory was born, there were protestors protesting about the death of an African American who’d been killed by police, and what probably went unnoticed is that most of those protestors were White Americans. Even they realize that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he added.
Shabazz brought greetings of peace and power from her entire family to comfort the Gregories, and thanked them for sharing their husband and father on behalf of the greater community.
“I’m honored to be here today, knowing that our fore parents’ significant contributions and sacrifice to the world over and over and over again are not in vain, and that our great ancestors are lining up to welcome their brother Baba Dick Gregory into the mighty kingdom,” Shabazz said. The church erupted into applause.
“Much like our fathers, Dick Gregory stood up to the power structure to reclaim truth and justice for his people and she it was time to clarify who took Brother Malcolm’s life, it was Dick Gregory who rose to the occasion,” Shabazz said, invoking more thunderous applause.
“When it was time to clarify who assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, it was Dick Gregory who rose to the occasion. He raised his voice for Malcolm, and Dr. King, and all of the others who were slain by bullies, by bigots, because they could not do so for themselves,” she continued.
The Gregory family thanks everyone for the outpouring of love and support, and in lieu of flowers, asks: “…please consider purchasing copies of Dick Gregory’s newest book “Defining Moments in Black History” for your family or friends to keep the words and passions of Dick Gregory front and center, or, please consider a tax-deductible donation to the Dick Gregory Foundation and Dick Gregory Society.”