Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Race and Society

BOND: When did you first think of yourself as a leader? In a sense you've been a leader since you were in high school --

GREGORY: But I never did.

BOND: But you have to have.

GREGORY: No, no, trust me, you see --

BOND: Well, other people do.

GREGORY: Yeah, but you remember now, I was the entertainer making millions of dollars, okay. So I didn't need nobody to put a tag on me. You follow what I'm saying? And I don't say this derogatory -- I mean, "Comedian Dick Gregory," hey, man I have no problem with that in no shape, form or fashion. But then because of that I never had to be validated by the The New York Times or The Washington -- I mean as far as -- I don't get my propers now. But that don't bother me and you know most of the folks that did research on the Kennedy-King assassination and they wiped out, it never bothered me because I walked up on the stage, that a fascination thing wasn't my livelihood, it wasn't the only thing I could do.

And then the civil rights movement -- the reason I have so much respect for you and them guys there, y'all was there everyday. I came down when you called me, willing to die, but I'm making $25,000 a night. You call me to come to Mississippi to do a show, you wasn't making no money, couldn't afford it. I was there because my friend called me, because I knew the beauty of the movement. I didn't know the movement was going to have the effect that it had on me.

Let me tell you this wild story because public school stadium had made me in St. Louis, that's where I always went wild -- and became a human being.

Now the biggest thing in show business, and I'm in San Francisco and the AAU is having the Olympic tryouts in 1960. So I get off that night and I fly back to St. Louis, my old public school stadium, and I go there with a picket sign, asking the Negro athletes -- and notice as we do this interview when I talk back then it's Negro, talk now it's black -- and I said to the Negro athletes, "Please boycott the Olympics until America gives us a civil rights bill." And a couple of white folk call me a Communist, couple of them spit at me. But no Negro even looked in my eye or said anything. And I got to be back at work that night. I got on the plane. Man, you can't believe how rejected I was. Thank God for whiskey. Man, I -- first-class, whiskey free? I got off that plane -- and then a funny thing happened four years later. Two black men balled up their fists and the world has never been the same.

BOND: Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

GREGORY: The world has never been the same. The role sports played in the world is incredible. That went around the world. One day when I went around the world with a white friend of mine, just touring, the number one symbol solidarity is a black clenched fist. Now I picked up Harry Edwards' book, Dr. Harry Edwards, and in his book he says, "Everybody asked me how'd I get the idea" -- ‘cause he was the whole movement behind that. He said, "When I was in my last year of high school, the AAU was holding tryouts in St. Louis, Missouri, public school stadium, and my father said, ‘I'm going to keep you out of school today and I'm going to take you to see the Olympic trials.' And I saw Dick Gregory with a picket sign and that's where I got the idea."

Now let me tell you how that changed my life. I realized then how angry I was when I got back on that plane. And then I realized that God says to the farmer, "All I need you to do is just plant my seed. I will take care of the rest. Not you, will determine harvest time. Harvest is determined by how much sunlight I give you, how much water I give you, how much breeze I give you. I determine how cool it's going to be at twelve midnight. All I need you to do is plant the seed," and my life changed after I read that, because from that day on I realized that there's a God force that picks you to plant the seed.

BOND: Dick Gregory, thank you for being a successful farmer for all these years.

GREGORY: Thank you, my brother.

BOND: Thank you.