This story appears in the August 1964 issue of Playboy. Subscribe

This article originally appeared in the August 1964 issue playboy magazine.

Brought up in the Negro ghetto of St. Louis, Richard Claxton Gregory seemed destined to remain, like so many of his race, the prisoner of a deprived environment. He grew up, however, to become the first Negro comedian to break into the big leagues of show business, and the only entertainer of any color to commit his fame and fortune–even his physical well-being–to the cause of racial equality. Few people would seem less likely to become a leading figure in the civil rights movement–yet, for good or ill, he has assumed just such a role.

This improbable success story began in January 1961, when Gregory’s fortunes, as an unknown comic burdened with chronic unemployment as well as the responsibility of a wife and child, were at their lowest ebb. Scheduled to be interviewed for a possible engagement at Chicago’s Playboy Club, Gregory was asked, without notice and without audition, to fill in for ailing comic Irwin Corey. He brought down the house–and with it, the tacit prohibition of race relations as a socially acceptable subject for humor in big-time night clubs. Within a year, at $6500 a week, he was playing to capacity crowds from Basin Street East in Manhattan and Mister Kelly’s in Chicago to the hungry i in San Francisco. He had received a $25,000 advance on his first best-selling album, “Dick Gregory in Living Black and White,” and had written and posed for a satiric photo-and-comment book (part of which first ran in playboy) called From the Back of the Bus, with an introduction by playboy Editor-Publisher Hugh M. Hefner.

It was then, at the crest of his success, that Gregory began to involve himself in–and dedicate himself to–the civil rights activities which have come to eclipse his career as a comedian. A prominent participant in boycotts, sit-ins, stall-ins, marches and Freedom Rides in Arkansas and Illinois, Massachusetts and Mississippi, he has been arrested eight times, served a total of two months in various jails, and posted $2000 bonds on at least six occasions. In all, he has spent almost a quarter-million dollars of his own money on the movement, and has lost an estimated $100,000 in canceled night-club bookings since March of 1963.

Apart from the honorary compensation of an Emmy citation from Los Angeles’ station KTLA-TV for his eloquent enunciation of the Negro cause on a local television show, and the Negro Publishers’ Russwurm Award for “outstanding achievement” in the field of civil rights, Gregory has been rewarded with mingled approbation and abuse for his sometimes vociferous militancy. His importance, however, as a pivotal and powerful figure in the nationwide Negro movement is generally conceded.

At this juncture in his stormy public life, we felt that the time was ripe for an outspoken “Playboy Interview” with the 31-year-old funnyman-turned-freedom-fighter. During the late-night tape sessions that followed, Gregory explored for us–with deep gravity and disarming candor, but only occasional dependence on his well-known wit–both his reasons for taking up the Negro cause and his controversial views on what one writer has called “the crisis in black and white.” We began our conversation on a negative note, with a question about recent criticism of his total commitment to the cause of racial equality.


In the months since you became deeply involved in the civil rights movement, critics have accused you of taking yourself too seriously—to the extent of jeopardizing your career as a comedian. What’s your reaction to this charge?
Well, these critics who feel I’m destroying myself as an entertainer, all they know is show business. They’re concerned night-club-wise, not news-wise. A political reporter would never say I’m taking myself too seriously. You see, there comes a time when you got to decide what you are and what you want. Way I see it now, I’m an individual first, an American second and a Negro third. But I’m a Negro before I’m an entertainer.

Is this realization what made you decide to commit yourself to the Negro cause?
What happened was, I read about how this Negro named Clyde Kennard had been trying to integrate the University of Mississippi three years before James Meredith showed up, and they planted five sacks of stolen chicken feed on his farm, and then came and arrested him, threw him in jail, gave him a quick trial, found him guilty, and sentenced him to seven and a half years’ hard labor. While he was in prison, he went to the hospital and they found out he had cancer. When I got through reading about this, I made a vow—it was New Year’s Eve, 1962—to get Clyde Kennard out of jail. I figured I’d get the story and release it, and when America find out, America get him out—'cause there are certain things the bigots don’t want to see even a nigger go through. I found out he didn’t have no visitors, so I paid for his sister to go down there to see him. He had lost so much blood and he was so weak, two men had to dress him and bring him down to the visitors’ table and take him back. That next Monday morning I found out they had him back on hard labor. But we put the heat on them, and eventually they let him out. We brought him up to a Chicago hospital. A little later he died—but he died free.

Won’t the passage of the Civil Rights Bill do much to remedy, among other things, the kind of injustice that put Kennard behind bars?
Not a bit. Besides, that isn’t the point. The point is that the white man’s getting his just due under the Constitution, but they got to give me a Civil Rights Bill to get mine. That’s segregation. If the Civil Rights Bill was passed today, it wouldn’t stop this great social revolution, because the Negro’s going for the Constitution, for all the constitutional rights that are already rightfully his as a citizen—and he ain’t going to stop till he gets them. If the bill passed in the morning, I would cheer it right along with the rest of them, because it’s a great thing to have happen, but you come right down to it, that bill don’t really give us nothing. Promise them everything, but give them nothing. That’s what it amounts to.

Can you be more specific?
Yes, I can. Just to name one thing, it give the Negro in the South the right to vote, but it don’t give him the right to register. Until he gets the right to register, baby, he can’t vote. But even if it did give us the right to register, then so what, because the passage of the Civil Rights Bill is the worst thing that could happen to the revolution. That Negro who don’t want to come out here and lay in this foxhole with us, he’s depending on that bill, and if it don’t come through, he’s going to get fed up and come on out here and fight with us, and then we’ll really get something accomplished. But if the bill does get through, it’ll cool off the revolution, and once the revolution gets cooled off, it’s going to stretch over another 20 years. The only thing that’s going to save the country is this revolution. We may be going to lose a whole lot of friends we’ve gained, because they don’t understand; but the only way we can save America today is this great social revolution.

Time magazine has intimated that your own militant tactics as a freedom fighter have already succeeded in losing friends—even among fellow Negroes. At the time of your participation in a Greenwood, Mississippi, demonstration last spring, Time wrote: “His performance in Greenwood was enough to make Negroes there wish he had stayed in Chicago. The uninhibited jeers and gibes he aimed at the cops and other whites were noisily and embarrassingly out of key with the quiet, deliberately passive tone of the student leaders.” Any comment?
Well, that’s what Time said, but did you read Ebony or Jet? The fact is that a cop down there spread it around that some of my colored friends said they’ll be glad when Dick Gregory leaves. Now I know it was a lie, but when the reporters asked me about it, I said some of my white friends in Greenwood were saying the same thing about them. That Time story is like, after the march on Washington, a lot of the Northern newspapers ran front-page pictures of the trash laying on the ground. Have you ever seen them run pictures of trash laying on the ground after the Rose Bowl game, or after one of the big parades? That’s the kind of open malice many Northern newspapers have in their hearts for Negroes.

But were you actually hostile to the police down there?
Look, I was mad then. That cop twisted my arm and shoved me across the street, and other cops were knocking old women down. I’ve learned more now, but I was mad then, I was aggravated—because I was seeing things for the first time.

You don’t have no right to tell me to wait on racial equality. You not black 24 hours a day.

In this connection, Drew Pearson wrote recently in his syndicated column: “Recommended reading for Dick Gregory: The South During Reconstruction by E. M. Coulter. This is the tragic story of how … in less than a decade, the highhanded methods of Negro politicians and white carpetbaggers turned sour the deep sympathy felt for the Negro during and immediately after the Civil War. It killed the spirit of racial cooperation and set back Negro progress by half a century.” What’s your reaction to this rebuke?
Well, see, what Drew Pearson doesn’t realize is that during the Civil War, it was the white folks who won, and after they won, they put Negroes into positions for the purpose of misusing Southern white people. It was the whites themselves who went down there and did that. But today, this is our revolution, and we’re running it. I’m so goddamn sick and tired of the white man telling us, “Wait, take your time.” Well, you don’t have no right to tell me to wait on racial equality. You not black 24 hours a day.

In the same column, Pearson alleged that “the chief reason for the huge silent protest vote rolled up for Governor George Wallace of Alabama in Wisconsin, Indiana and Maryland is not because Marylanders like Wallace, but because of the intensity of their dislike for the Negro.” Do you agree?
I cracked up when I read that. I knew that white folks had to blame somebody for Wallace, but I didn’t think they’d blame us. You know, I’m really beginning to like that mother Wallace, because he came up and gave away Whitey’s biggest secret up North.

Which is?
Did you read where the Ku Kluxers shucked their sheets and now their official costume is a business suit and tie, on account of it’s a better image? Well, that’s nothing new, ‘cause up North the K.K.K. been wearing that outfit for years. If the fate and destiny of the Negro depended on many of the Northern whites to go behind a closed poll and vote, I’d be voted back to slavery before the polls closed.

Aren’t you exaggerating?
No, I mean it. Up North you like to condemn racial segregation in the South, but when I’m down in Mississippi, I see the big white house where the white folks live, and two hundred yards behind it is the shack where the Negroes live, and I’m thinking how we can’t live this close to the white folks up North. Another thing—and this is really amazing—with all the hell we been through with Mississippi cops and Alabama cops, I’ve never seen them standing by during one of our demonstrations and letting a mob of white people misuse us. This only happens up North. Only the mobs in Cleveland and Chicago can break through the lines. You can get police brutality down South, but not a race riot. As long as the cops keep that mob away, you’re not going to get a race riot. Up North, they permit the mob—and that means riots.

You’ve gone on record in the New York Herald Tribune as saying that “only two people in this country now could stop a race riot: Malcolm X and Dick Gregory.” Would you elaborate on that statement?
Well, to begin with, I’d call myself number two and Malcolm number one to stop a race riot. I’ve been able to help all organizations—the NAACP, CORE, SNCC, the Urban League—because when I come in to help, I don’t come in associated with any one group. All they associate me with is Dick Gregory. So if a race riot broke out, I could come in as an outside mediator invited by them to help stop it. Now Malcolm, he wouldn’t have to be invited in. If a race riot was going on in Chicago, all Malcolm would have to do is fly in and say “Stop fighting,” and the Negroes would stop, whereas there’s a strong possibility that if Martin Luther King said “Stop fighting,” they’d say “Ah, you nonviolent anyway.” Or if the NAACP came in and said “Stop fighting,” they might say “Get lost, this is a CORE rally.” The only guy that could stop a fight is the guy that could start the fight. This is the position that Malcolm is in, and it’s a very powerful position. And because of it, we may yet find out that Malcolm is one of the greatest necessary evils this country’s ever had. And with Malcolm leaving the Muslims and going over to black nationalism and preaching self-defense—there is no hate in self-defense—I think you’ll find, in the next six to eight months, if there’s not some quick improvements and honest, sincere efforts on the part of many more white Americans to solve this racial problem, that Malcolm will probably become the number-one strong man in this country.

Malcolm is an advocate of Negro violence in self-defense, whereas you’ve said that you’re committed to nonviolence. Yet recently at Carnegie Hall, you were applauded by a biracial audience when you spoke about “the phoniness of nonviolence.” How do you reconcile this seeming self-contradiction?
Many clapped because they’re not committed to nonviolence, and they thought because I was speaking about the phoniness of nonviolence, that I was saying let’s fight the white man. But I wasn’t saying that. I was saying that anything built on a false premise will not exist very long. The philosophy of nonviolence will not last very long in this country, because all nonviolence means is that the Negro don’t hit a white man; but if a Negro kill Malcolm X, he’d be cheered by many nonviolence-loving whites. If every Negro in America said “I’m nonviolent,” white folks would love it, but if we had to fight Russia in the morning and we said we’re nonviolent and we don’t believe in killing nobody, we’d be hauled off to a concentration camp and shot.

Do you mean that literally?
Literally, literally. If 20 million Negroes said “We’re committed to nonviolence,” and a war broke out, you got a hell of a problem. With a war going on, what prison can they afford to put 20 million of us in and feed us and clothe us? And if they did put us away, white folks would say, “If they can stay off the front lines, so can we.” They’d have to shoot us, or pretty soon wouldn’t be nobody fighting the war.

You’ve said that you’d be willing to die to defend your convictions in the civil rights struggle. Did you also mean this literally?
Absolutely. You do something wrong to me or my people, man, I’ll fight you, and either you’ll have to kill me or I’ll win, because you’re going to have to fight me until you get tired of doing it.

Wouldn’t you say that there have been encouraging signs during the past year that the struggle for equal rights can be won without bloodshed on either side?
Such as what signs?

Well, such as the transporting of Negro children by bus from segregated neighborhoods to schools in other neighborhoods for the purpose of integration.
I think it’s great; a step in the right direction, anyway. But it’s white folks who don’t like the idea of busing, not Negroes. That’s what really tickles the hell out of me, because it was your idea, not ours. We told you to integrate the schools; you give us a bus instead; now many whites are complaining about the bus. White folks all of a sudden talking about busing like we invented it. But white folks been busing their own kids to school for decades—to Harvard, to Yale, to the University of Mexico. If the good schools don’t go to white folks, they go to them. All we’re doing is the same thing white folks do: The good schools don’t come to us, so we’re going to the good schools.

To name another recent civil rights milestone, the city school board of Pittsburgh has adopted a new teacher-hiring policy of “conscious preferment” whereby, if a Negro and a white with equal qualifications apply for the same position, the Negro will get the job. Despite the fact that it’s been denounced in some quarters as bias in reverse, wouldn’t you call this a significant victory for the Negro cause?
I’d say it’s about time Negroes got the jump on everybody—instead of the other way around. This country has always been known as a champion of the underdog—but only as long as the underdog ain’t black.

Wouldn’t you concede that there is no longer any color bar in such fields as major-league baseball?
I wouldn’t concede nothing of the kind. Do you know of a Negro umpire in major-league baseball? But I do like baseball, because it’s the first time a Negro can shake a stick at a white man without starting a riot.

You’ve probably noticed that an increasing number of Negroes—including sports figures—have been appearing in television commercials during the past year or so. Don’t you think this is a step forward?
Yes, I do—but you still got commercials like that one for high-test gas with the white cars and the black cars, where the guy say, “Notice how the black cars run out of gas and the white cars are still going.” Well, that gassed me, if you’ll excuse the expression. Why not let some of those white cars run out of gas? You just don’t make them all black, not in the middle of this revolution. You know, that’s where we got the idea for the World’s Fair stall-in, watching them black cars run out of gas.

Speaking of the stall-in, what was your own involvement in it?
I was out there on the highway, but there was nothing to stall—75 percent of all the traffic in New York didn’t show up. You figure it out. The attendance was so low at the fair—and they’re still running behind—pretty soon they’re going to start putting up signs saying Welcome Picketers. But you want to know something? Every Negro was behind that stall-in, whether they knew it or not.

But not the NAACP, SNCC and the Urban League, which publicly deplored the stall-in, and even CORE itself, which suspended Isiah Brunson for refusing to abandon the plan.
Emotionally, every Negro was behind that thing 100 percent.

Apart from whether the plan was practicable, do you feel that such extreme tactics are either wise or justified?
Yes. If the duly elected senior citizens of this country, the United States Senators, can hold a stall-in in the sacred halls of the Congress, a second-class citizen ought to be able to hold one on a bloody American highway.

Senator Goldwater was among the leaders of both parties who condemned the stall-in. On other occasions, despite the fact that he has been less outspoken in championing the cause of civil rights than of states’ rights, he has declared himself sympathetic with the plight of the Negro. Where do you feel he really stands on the race problem?
I read where Goldwater said if he were a Negro, he didn’t think he could be patient either. I feel if he was a Negro, wouldn’t nobody give a damn what he thought anyway.

A few months ago, on David Susskind’s Open End television program, a group of Negroes said they favored another Presidential hopeful, Governor George Romney of Michigan, as the Republican candidate for President in 1964. Isn’t this odd, in view of the fact that the Mormon Church, of which Romney is a member, prohibits Negroes from its ranks?
Well, you have a large percentage of Negroes that don’t know what a Mormon is; and you have another percentage of Negroes that don’t condemn a man because of his religion. That makes no difference to us. Many Negroes were horrified during the Kennedy election at the amount of hatred toward Catholics—because to us, this was an American we were voting for, not a Catholic.

Several Negro spokesmen have said that the role of religion, Mormon and otherwise, in the civil rights movement has been less constructive than obstructive. Do you agree?
Well, in some ways it’s been a help, because the Negro, the only thing he’s ever had to hold onto was religion. I mean, when there was no hope, he grabbed religion, and by hanging onto that, he became somebody. In a Negro church, he didn’t have to worry about where he was going to sit. He didn’t have to worry about somebody telling him “Do this” or “Do that.” He didn’t have to worry about saying “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.” And in church, nobody called him “boy.” So religion has played a very, very important role in the life of the Negro.

They’ve integrated whorehouses, hotels, pool halls, restaurants, night clubs, swimming pools, golf courses—but if I tried to sit in at certain churches, I’d be arrested before I could open the hymnbook.

We were referring to the current involvement of the church in the civil rights cause.
Well, as an active force for leadership in the cause, it’s failed in many ways. Had religion upheld its end of the struggle for human dignity and freedom and justice during the last hundred years, today we would be thanking God instead of the United States Supreme Court. When you think that 99.9 percent of white America that goes to church Sunday will not see a black face, and 99.9 percent of black America that goes to church Sunday will not see a white face, you realize that religion is the most segregated form of American life today. They’ve integrated whorehouses, they’ve integrated hotels, pool halls, restaurants, night clubs, swimming pools, golf courses–but if I tried to sit in at certain churches this coming Sunday, I’d be arrested and a $20,000 bond held over my head before I could open the hymnbook. This is not just a reflection on some churches; it’s a reflection on all churches. And I say this knowing that there would be a lot of white priests and ministers who would die for us and with us. But that doesn’t change the over-all picture.

Last November, before the circumstances of his death had been made public, several Negro publications alleged that President Kennedy had “died for the Negro,” that is, had been killed because of his stand against racial prejudice and injustice. Did you share this view at the time?
What a lot of white people don’t know is there’s twenty million Negroes who still feels President Kennedy was assassinated because of his stand against racial prejudice.

But there’s no evidence to indicate that the President’s death had anything to do with the race problem.
Don’t need no evidence. When 20 million people say two and two is five, baby, two and two is five; you can say two and two is four till you blue in the face, it won’t make no difference. If the biggest hoodlum in the syndicate went on a TV show and said, “I think the way the Negro gets treated in America is just awful,” and he walked out and got killed by another gangster, you could never tell us that he was killed because he was the number-one dope seller in America. We’d have to feel he was killed because of the statement he made.

Aren’t you being presumptuous to generalize about the opinion of 20 million Negroes?
No, because I go from one end of this country to the other and back sometimes in a matter of three days; I’m in the Negro neighborhoods, I talk to the people there, I listen to them, and I hear the tempo, I feel the pulse. I know what he’s saying, I know how he feels.

Well, tell us how you feel. Do you personally believe that President Kennedy was assassinated because of his sympathy and support for the Negro?
No, I’m saying that because so many white folks have died for my cause, it’s easy for me to think that the same thing happened to him, because of these others, because the minute a white guy do something for us, they burn a cross in front of his house. We seen too many white people lay down for our cause and get crushed with tractors, the postman who got shot through the head. I’m not saying that I personally believe this is the reason Kennedy was killed, but that we, as a group, feel this way, because other white people have tried to help us and have been hurt.

You said you’ve seen “too many white people lay down for our cause.” Aren’t you heartened by the fact that so many whites are willing to make this kind of sacrifice?
Of course, but that’s just it: There’s going to come a day when many Negroes will get tired of seeing white people get killed for us. Because this is a very, very dangerous thing. I don’t know what the boiling point is going to be, but there will come a time when the Negro’s not going to sit by and let it happen no more. And when that day comes, there’s going to be big trouble.

With whom?
With the rest of the whites, the ones who wouldn’t lift a finger to help the Negro. I don’t mean only the bigots, but the phony liberals—the ones who got the best of intentions, who say they’re one hundred percent for integration and equal rights—as long as it don’t put them out any, and it ain’t next door, and it don’t involve their daughter. Like this cat at Yale who raised his hand during the question-and-answer session after my act, and said: “Mr. Gregory, is there anything a sophisticated, high-echelon white man can do in the movement on the top level?” I said, “Yeah—put burnt cork on your face and follow me down to Mississippi in the morning.” And he says, “I mean can we help run the revolution, not just join?” I said, “Well, look, we put Japanese in the Army during World War II, but we didn’t send none to the Pentagon. You want to join my army, baby, you start as a private. If you good as you think you are, we’ll push you up to general in no time.”

Do you run across many like him?
Too many. That’s not to say there aren’t a few asking questions who sincerely want to help. But a lot of them are like this white kid in Cleveland, at Case Institute, that stood up and said, “Mr. Gregory, I had a friend of mine, a roommate who went down South with the first Freedom Riders and he came back bitter and hating people and very prejudiced, after that. What do you have to say about that?” I saw he was trying to trap me, trying to lead me to believe it was a white boy; then, after I put down his roommate for being prejudiced and bitter, he was going to lay it on me that he was a Negro. I could tell by his attitude and the little smirkyass grin he had on his face. I swung on in and said, “Was he white or colored?” He said colored. I said, “Did it ever dawn on you that the reason he went on the Freedom Ride was because he didn’t like white folks in the first place?”

Heckling seems to be one of the occupational hazards of night-club performers. Have you been subjected to much of it?
I had it when I started off in the type of night club I was working, but so would anybody—black, white, pink or purple. When you’re working to a crowd that can get in for 35 cents and a bottle of beer, let’s face it, they’ll heckle God.

Has a member of the audience ever called you “nigger” during a performance?
They used to, back in 1960, when I was working for $10 a night, but they always shut up when I told them, “According to my contract, the management pays me fifty dollars every time someone calls me that, so will you all do me a favor and stand up and say it again in unison?”

How do you feel about a Negro comic, such as Bill Cosby, who deliberately avoids humor concerning race relations?
I think he has a right, as a matter of freedom. I could do that, too, but I think anyone who looks at a Negro comedian like Cosby—who certainly is brilliant and has a sharp mind, but doesn’t mention anything about the racial situation—would have to feel he was ducking it.

Bob Rolontz, a reviewer for Billboard, has written that you occasionally resort to “a semidialect that is not necessary” in your own comedy routines. Do you disagree?
Critics have the right to analyze me, but they can’t tell me what I don’t need. This is the way I talk, man. It’s just me, period. I’m not trying to prove nothing to no one.

Another characteristic of your performances onstage in the past has been your chain-smoking. To depart from the race issue for a moment: Were your smoking habits affected by the Surgeon General’s report on cigarettes and lung cancer?
I quit the day that report came out. Maybe I’ll get cancer anyway, but I be goddamn if I’m going to pay state and Federal taxes for the privilege of catching it. I didn’t only quit, I refuse to go on any TV shows that sponsor cigarettes. And I’ve lost some money because of it. But I wish the cigarette report on cancer would have come out six months earlier when I went to buy my mother-in-law a birthday present. I would have bought her a carton of cigarettes instead of that case of tuna. I have a mother-in-law that hates me with a passion. She’s deeply religious, see, and most religious folks, when they hate you, they always threaten you with God–He gonna git you. On Good Friday, when they had the earthquake, I called my mother-in-law up and said, “Hey, baby, He missed me again!” But, you see, I have a mother-in-law that’s unique, because she started out hating me two months before the wedding. One night she knocked on my door and she said, “My daughter’s pregnant. What are you going to do about it?” I told her to find a bright star and follow it; it’s worked once, you know. But I guess it was the wrong thing to tell her, because she followed that bright star and it led right back to my house, with the sheriff and the judge.

Obviously that bit about your wife and mother-in-law is from one of your routines. But is it, like much of your humor, also based on truth?
It is a routine, but it’s also true that my wife was pregnant before we were married. So I use the pregnant routine as a joke, but I use it because it actually happened.

And you don’t mind that being part of this interview?
No.

And your wife wouldn’t be embarrassed by it?
No.

Why not?
Because she is a remarkable woman. My wife Lil is the reason I’m what I am and where I am, because she trusts me. If I called her right now and said, “Honey, get a babysitter, we going to walk to New York,” she’d say, “OK, Greg.” But you know, if I were to put white people down, she wouldn’t go along with it. She’ll never participate in evil with me at all. Man, the cats that made your biggest heroes have been the cats that had a good woman behind him. I have a woman that I can go out and jump in the foxhole and be the soldier in this revolution. And when I come back it’s like coming into a king’s palace.

When I see the white minister lay under a tractor, whatever prejudices I might’ve had about whites have been aired out.

You mentioned putting down whites. Have your experiences in sit-ins and demonstrations made you feel bitter or prejudiced toward white people?
Am I prejudiced against white people? No. But before I got involved on the front line of this revolution, there could have been room for prejudice. If a guy told me then, “There’s two airplanes fixing to leave—one is full of white folks and one is full of colored folks, and you don’t know anybody on either one of them, but one of those planes has to crash and you have to decide which one"—I would have chosen the white plane, maybe just because the Negro’s the underdog; give him the benefit of the doubt. But now, since I’ve been on the front line, I know what good white folks look like. I been with good white folks. But if I can’t see both planes, and I still got to make the decision, then I’d have to choose both of them. I’m not going to say one or the other, because I’ve seen too many white people on the front line with me to balance out whatever bitterness I might have felt once. When I see the mother of the Governor of Massachusetts going to jail for me, when I see the white minister lay down under a tractor that he could have been driving—whatever prejudices I might have had about whites have been aired out. The only reason the prejudices against whites might have been there in the beginning was because I didn’t know them. It used to be I would go into a night club in Chicago, and the minute the white headwaiter said, "Do you have a reservation?” I would jump to conclusions, maybe, because so many other whites have asked me that question to keep me out. Or when a white guy and myself went into a bar, and white folks would turn and look at us, I used to assume they’re looking because we’re black and white together. If I was by myself, I’d assume they’re looking at me because I’m black, because I don’t believe they’d look at just anybody that walks through the door. These were the prejudices that I had; I was prejudging people—this is all prejudice is. Now, when I go on the front line, and I see a white cat getting his head cracked for me, this lets me know that the revolution is not black against white, it’s right against wrong. It’s like the only people that hate the Germans and the Japanese now are the guys that didn’t go on the front line, because after the War was over, the GIs was marrying them—remember?

Would you marry a white woman?
No, I wouldn’t, because I’m not about to go through the humiliation that I would have to go through with a white woman; if I walk down the street with a woman and everybody’s looking at her, I want them to be looking at her because she is a gorgeous Miss America, not because she’s white. And I’m not about to go through the route where she’s got to be insulted when she’s not with me and nobody knows she’s the one that’s married to me, and hear some cat say nigger-this and nigger-that; and where I got to be insulted by some cat who don’t know I’m married to a white woman and he’s sitting there talking about, “I don’t go along with these integrated marriages.” I just don’t think it’s worth it—not for me. But I’m bringing up my kids to say that whoever they want to marry, they can marry. If you feel that strongly about love, then you go ahead. My daughters can marry Smokey the Bear, as long as they don’t bring the son of a bitch home to live with me, and they don’t ask me to buy no bear food. Like I am just not willing to join the Airborne, and jump out of no goddamn plane, man; but that don’t mean I’m against the Airborne. I can’t swim a lick, but my kids are welcome to learn how—and I’d much rather they did—but ain’t nobody going to teach me how to swim, this is just one thing I’m not willing to pay the price for. I can go lay my body down in Mississippi for the cause, but not for love, not for love of a woman. Maybe you can do this for love, but I’m not strong enough.

While we’re on the subject of paying the price for a cause, isn’t it true that you’ve had to forgo many night-club appearances—and hence many thousands of dollars in income—as a result of your commitment to the civil rights movement?
Sure, but any night-club engagement I’ve missed, I’ve always made it up to them. No night-club owner has ever lost on me. Because either I’ll go free for him, or I’ll give him a price he never could have gotten otherwise. My managers know, though, that if a demonstration comes up, I’m gone. If I had 30 or 40 night clubs bidding for me—which I ain't—I could just work one a week anyway; so if it was down now to two or three—which it ain't—I still could just work one at a time.

How long do you plan to continue dividing your time between your career and the cause?
As long as I have to, to get what we got coming to us.

You’re reported to have spent almost $250,000 of your own money on the Negro cause. Can you afford to keep up this kind of outlay on the income from your irregular night-club appearances?
Can’t afford not to. If I’m willing to pay the price of dying for the cause, what I care about a few bucks more or less? But if you worried how I’m going to make out, I just pressed a new comedy record, and I got another book coming out next month, so I’ll get by.

What are the titles?
The LP called Dick Gregory Says; the book called nigger!

Just nigger?
With a little “n” and an exclamation point.

Why did you call it that?
I explain in the dedication, where I say, “To Momma, wherever you are—if ever you hear the word nigger again, remember, they’re advertising my book.”