Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory


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It was a lie. I played all that day in a vacant lot. I guess she knew. She never pressed me for names when I told her about all the people who liked me, all the people I created in my mind, people to help poor folks. I couldn't believe God had made a world and hadn't put none of those people in it. I made up a schoolteacher that loved me, that taught me to read. A teacher that didn't put me in the idiot's seat or talk about you and your kind.


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She didn't yell at me when I came to school with my homework all wrinkled and damp. She understood when I told her it was too cold to study in the kitchen so I did my homework under the covers with a flashlight. Then I fell asleep.

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And one of the other five kids in bed must have peed on it. I'd go out and sweat and make five dollars. And I'd come home and say, Momma, Mister Green told me to bring this to you. Told me he liked you. Told me he wished he could raise his kids the way you're raising us.

Dick Gregory : Autobiography (1964) (audiobook pt 5)

That wasn't true, Momma. Remember all those birthday parties I went to, Momma? Used to steal things from the ten-cent store and give the best presents. I'd come home and tell you how we played pillow kiss and post office and pin the tail on the donkey and how everybody liked me?

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That was a lie, Momma. One girl cried and ran away when she threw the pillow and it hit me. She opened her eyes and saw she was supposed to kiss me and she cried and ran away. And on my birthday, Momma, when I came home with that shopping bag full of presents and told you the kids in my class loved me so much they all got me things? That wasn't true. I stole all those little things from the ten-cent store and wrapped them up and put a different kid's name on each one.

They said we smelled so bad. I was six then, and Presley was almost eight. You cried all night, Momma, and then you told us to stay home until you could get us some new clothes. And you went and hid all the clothes we had. And then we went through your things, Momma, and put on the dresses you never wore, the dresses the rich white folks gave you. And then we went outside to play. The people laughed at us when we went outside in your dresses, pointed and slapped their legs. We never played so good as we played that summer, with all those people watching us.

And when the streetcar stopped on the corner, right in front of our house, the people would lean out the windows and stare. Presley and I would wave at them. We did it all that summer, and after a while nobody bothered us.

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We just made sure we were home before you got there, Momma. Those are the black and white ones I like so much, the ones you never wear.


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I didn't know they were summer shoes. I've dyed a lot of shoes, Momma, down on my hands and knees in the taverns, dyeing shoes and shining shoes. I never told you too much about the things I did and the things I saw. Momma, remember the time I came home with my teeth knocked in and my lip all cut? Told you I tripped downstairs.

Dick Gregory

Momma, I got kicked. Soon he was setting records and winning championships. Success on the team and the celebrity that went with it provided a welcome relief from the pains of being the poorest kid on a poor block. By senior year Gregory was captain of the track and cross-country teams and his self-esteem had become developed enough for him to run for president of his class—and win. Gregory's speed and endurance were his ticket into Southern Illinois University, where he continued to set records and win championships.

His wins began to seem hollow, however, as he became more and more conscious of the many little injustices he faced daily in the predominantly white university. He did some satirical comedy work at a few of the school's variety shows and found performing both exhilarating and frightening. If you're in good condition and you can run faster than Whitey, he can hate all he wants and you'll still come out the better man.

His wisecracks to superiors led to a confrontation with a colonel who challenged him to win the comedy competition at that night's talent show—or face court-martial. Gregory won and was transferred to the Army's Special Services entertainment division. After his discharge from the service Gregory drifted for a while, then headed to Chicago, where he began trying to carve out a name for himself as a comedian.

It was a long struggle. He got some low-paying, short-term jobs as host at various black nightclubs, but between these he was forced to work as everything from a postal clerk to a car washer. In Gregory borrowed some money and opened his own nightclub, the Apex, on the outskirts of the city.

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The first weekend seemed to forecast a rosy future for the club, but several successive weekends of fierce winter weather kept the crowds away and nearly wiped Gregory out financially; the Apex closed before a full year had passed. Things began to look up in late , however, when he rented the Roberts Show Club in Chicago and organized a party for the Pan American Games.

Nigger; an autobiography,

The success of the event and of Gregory's role as its master of ceremonies convinced the owner of the Roberts to hire the young performer as his regular master of ceremonies. The best black acts in the country played the club, which gave Gregory a chance to study and learn from the likes of funnyman Nipsey Russell and song-and-dance legend Sammy Davis, Jr. Unfortunately, the job lasted only a year and for a short time Gregory was back to scrabbling for one-night stands in small clubs.


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  • Then, early in , he got the job that changed his life. Gregory's agent called to say that a replacement was needed for a comic scheduled to work Chicago's Playboy Club. The comedian raced downtown for this prestigious gig, only to be turned away by the club's booking agent. The explanation was that the room had been booked to a convention of executives from the South who seemed likely to be hostile to a black comedian.

    Gregory recalled: "I was cold and mad and I had run twenty blocks and I didn't even have another quarter to go back home. I told him I was going to do the show they had called me for. The audience fought me with dirty, little, insulting statements, but I was faster, and I was funny, and when that room broke it was like the storm was over. They stopped heckling and they listened. What was supposed to be a fifty-minute show lasted for about an hour and forty minutes. The original one-night contract at the Playboy was extended to a two-month engagement, and Gregory's career took off.

    Time ran a feature on him, Jack Paar invited him to appear on his television program, and Gregory was soon one of the hottest acts on the nightclub circuit. He became the first black comedian to break the "color barrier" and perform for white audiences. The key to his comedy success was his satirical approach to race relations and his development of jokes that were about race, but not derogatory. In his autobiography he described his attitude on stage at that time: "I've got to go up there as an individual first, a Negro second.

    I've got to be a colored funny man, not a funny colored man. Hell of a thing to buy a lifetime membership, wake up one morning and find out the country's been integrated.

    Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory
    Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory
    Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory
    Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory
    Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory
    Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory
    Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory
    Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory

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