He was jailed and beaten by Birmingham police for parading without a permit in 1963. He took a bullet in the knee while trying to calm a crowd during the Watts riots in 1965. Two years later, he ran for mayor of Chicago against the infamous Richard Daley.
He was a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. and in 1968 he ran for president against Richard Nixon. He pulled an astonishing 1.5 million votes. And that was as a write-in candidate. During that campaign, he was arrested by U.S. Treasury agents for printing and distributing fake American currency with his picture on the bills as campaign literature.
His name is Dick Gregory. He is an activist and a comedian, well known for his hunger strikes for justice. In 1967, he weighed more than 280 pounds and smoked and drank heavily. Then he began a public fast-starting Thanksgiving Day-to protest the war in Vietnam. 40 days later, he broke his fast with a hearty glass of fruit juice. He weighed 97pounds.
In the summer of 1968 he fasted for 45 days as a show of solidarity with Native Americans. The following summer he did another 45 days in protest of de facto segregation in the Chicago public schools. In 1970 he went 81 days to bring attention to the narcotics problem in America. Beginning in 1971 he went nearly three years without solid foods, again to protest the war. During that stretch he ran 900 miles from Chicago to D.C.
During the Iran hostage crisis, he traveled to Tehran in an effort to free the hostages and he traveled to the north of Ireland to advise hunger-striking IRA prisoners. In his campaign against hunger he traveled to Ethiopia more than ten times.
More recently, his face appeared in newspapers across the country for his community action approach to investigate allegations behind the CIA’s connection with drugs in the African American community: he camped out in dealer-ridden public parks and rallied community leaders to shut down “head shops”; he protested at CIA headquarters and was arrested.
Throughout his life, Dick Gregory has been a target of FBI and police surveillance. And he was virtually banned from the entertainment arena for his political activism. Today, we spend the hour with Dick Gregory.