Several thousand mourners packed into a Landover, Md. church listened as friends, family and admirers lionized comedian, social justice warrior, civil rights activist and provocateur Dick Gregory. The spirited, electric memorial service on Saturday, Sept. 18, turned out to be more celebration than funeral.
“We experience the loss not of a comedian but the loss of one sent from above to be a guide, a teacher, a friend, a teacher, an activist, a giver, a sufferer, one of the most marvelous human beings I have had the privilege of meeting during my 84 years of life on this planet,“ said Minister Louis Farrakhan, who gave the eulogy.
“I want to thank Mother Lillian and the Gregory family for the great honor and privilege that you have given me to ask me to be the eulogist for a man that is so difficult to describe, But I’m going to try in a few words to say what I think and I believe about man who lie there but is not here.”
Speaking of Gregory’s dogged research, he said Gregory would bring a suitcase with materials and newspapers giving facts and figures, things he heard and sought the truth about.
“Dick Gregory had us laughing but he was not a comedian. Even his jokes were filled with wisdom. He was so far beyond dogma and doctrine and rituals of religion. I loved to hear Dick talk about the real God, the Universal God because he had grown and outgrown the negativity of denominationalism and the sectarianism of religion. He wanted us to grow into where he was.”
Farrakhan had been proceeded by a parade of stars of sorts bring reflections about Gregory from every walk of life.
“I’m so pleased that you organized a real celebration where you’re not ending quickly and trying to shut people up. I’m going to take as long as I want,” said U. S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) to peals of laughter and applause. “I have talked to Dick for hours. We would talk – no, he would talk – about things going on in the world. He brought me to this time and place in my life.”
For more than six hours, in a service “Celebrating the Life of a Legend,” people regaled attendees spread over the City of Praise Family Ministries with stories about Richard Claxton Gregory. The speakers also included Stevie Wonder, Bill and Camille Cosby, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, members of the American Indian Movement, The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and the Hon. Louis Farrakhan.
Interspersed with the speakers were musical performances by India Irie, Ayanna Gregory, Sweet Honey on the Rock, the Morgan State University Choir, Farafina Kan, and ‘Scandal’ star Joe Morton reprising a portion of his one-man biographical play on Gregory, “Turn Me Loose,” among others.
One extraordinary moment brought together several children of slain Civil Rights activists and Rain Pryor, daughter of comedian Richard Pryor. Renee Evers-Everette, Martin Luther King, III, and llyasah Shabazz, the third daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz extolled Gregory.
“Baba was part of my Pryor life of laughter and that special attention he gave you,” said Pryor. “He said that truths were soul food and a map to live by. He told me to always choose my words wisely. Today, as we honor our newest Ancestor, we are reminded not to morph, not to imitate, but to speak the highest truth. We have to keep them lifted in our actions as we become the change they sought.”
By Barrington M. Salmon