Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dick Gregory

If this man does not look biblical, I don't know who or what does. Anyway, he's Dick Gregory, and I went to hear him speak on Sunday night. When I was a 20-year-old student in Ann Arbor, Michigan, lo those many years ago, I also went to hear Gregory speak. I can't remember how I happened to go, but I certainly am happy that I did. This was a life-changing event for me, as I had the distinct impression that I was finally hearing The Truth, or at least a truly truer truth than I had ever heard before. I have carried that memory with me all this time, and when I saw that he would be in Chicago, I bought a ticket right away. 
     Anyone who has heard him will remember his style--very funny and also impassioned and always, always cutting right to the chase. He sees things that others simply don't, sees to the very center. Some people say that he rambles, but I say, "Let him."
     I could repeat any number of his insights for you here, but the one I will tell you this week had to do with what he sees as three sometimes-overlooked roots of the Civil War and the end of slavery. First, he mentioned Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn--because Twain gave a black man a name (Jim) and let him sit by the river and talk with a white man (Huck), two human beings together. Second, he mentioned Harriet Beecher Stowe, because in Uncle Tom's Cabin, she showed many white people for the first time what it was like to be a slave. Third, he mentioned John Brown, because he was so brave and so impassioned in his quest to end slavery, risking his own life and the lives of his sons. Gregory says that he plans to go to Harper's Ferry on December 2 for the 150th anniversary of Brown's raid, to honor the abolitionist.


Etta Worthington said...

I remember reading Soul on Ice as a 20 year old. I was chilled by Cleaver's take on white women. His anger and need for power over. I think I remember him describing a white woman as "the ogre." It wasn't as affirming a revelation as your experience but it did result in me looking at things a different way. A sort of paradigm shift

Susan Messer said...

Good point. Exposure to different viewpoints is crucial to our development. Hearing Gregory as a young person wasn't exactly affirming. It was actually a little scary, but introduced me to the wisdom of conspiracy theory. Anyway, I bet Cleaver was quite young when he wrote Soul on Ice. Gregory is now in his late 70s, a time of life when anger doesn't necessarily go away (nor should it), but people are more able to see subtleties and avoid blanket labels like ogre for all white women.