In Transition: Dick Gregory
The Nation, Civil Rights Icons Honor The Legacy Of An Activist Pioneer
By Hamil R. Harris
The pews of the City of Praise in Landover were filled with nearly 10,000 people who came to celebrate the life and legacy of comedian and Civil Rights Activist Dick Gregory.
There was the Morgan State University Choir in their blue robes as well as Sweet Honey in the Rock. There was Stevie Wonder as well as India Arie.
Bishop Joel Peebles welcomed people gathered for the “celebration,” and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan eulogized Gregory as man who even caused Malcolm X to stop and listen. But inside the church, built by the late Apostle Betty Peebles, there was sophisticated decorum and tight order regulated by Master of Ceremonies Rev. Mark Thompson.
Only Gregory, whom many considered an urban prophet, could convene such a gathering that looked like an old D.C. rally complete with food and tee shirt vendors selling their goods under the watch of the Nation of Islam.
“It was the story of our lives in this generation in one room,” said Photographer Bill Hart who worked with Prince George’s Suite Media among the many media sources documenting the historic memorial. Hart, who grew up in the decade just after the height of the civil rights movement, says he has been both a beneficiary and a witness to the work of the many leaders attending the memorial for Gregory. “We have been blessed to have so much change and growth in our lifespan from people like Gregory and King to Obama. And so many of those people and their children are here today.”
Speaking on behalf of his mother, his siblings and the family, Christian Gregory said, “It means so incredibly much to have all of you hear today as we pay tribute to my father.”
“We thank him for a life of sacrifice,” Gregory told the audience. “While we celebrate his life, we acknowledge all of the suffering, all of the pain, but then all of the glory.”
It was Gregory’s daughter, Ayanna, who offered a stellar vocal performance in tribute to her father. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/ballad-for-my-father-tribute-to-dick-gregory/id259647277?i=259647279
Ayanna Gregory has been a performance artist and has performed in the Washington, D.C. metro area – specifically Prince George’s County, Md. -- for several years. http://www.pgsuite.com/people/2016/8/19/dance-with-my-father
Bill and Camille Cosby sat near the front of the cavernous sanctuary during the seven hour service on Saturday that was broadcast live on WPFW FM.
At times the event felt more like a political rally as many icons of Black America struggled to stay within their time limit. Among those were Rev. CT Vivian, Dr. Myrlie Evers-Williams, Clyde Bellecourt and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.
One of the most poignant moments came when the children of Richard Pryor, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Malcom X and the widow of Medgar Evers talked about how Gregory had encouraged each of them over the years.
In terms of music Gregory was musically eulogized by Wonder, India Arie, Sweet Honey and the Rock and his own daughter Ayana Gregory. Wonder was accompanied by the City of Praise Choir.
Although Gregory was a native of Saint Louis, MO and his home was in Plymouth, Mass. with his wife and mother 10 children, the District served as his second home. Recognizing this fact at the memorial was D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Nation of Islam Minister, the Honorable Louis Farrakhan eulogized Gregory. During his message, Farrakhan said, “I loved to talk but when Dick is around you better be prepared to listen. He always came with a suitcase of things because he sought the truth.”
In terms of faith, Farrakhan said that Gregory never joined a church because “He was far beyond dogma and rituals,” and in terms of his life’s work “He wasn’t looking for a purpose he was born with a purpose.”