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Politics Mondays: Dick Gregory, A Valuable Man

Last Monday, on our weekly radio program on Matsimela Mapfumo’s "Make It Plain" - broadcast on XM Radio (Channel 169) and 1450 WOl-AM and 1010-WOLB-Am in Washington D.C., and Baltimore, respectively - we had the honor of civil rights activist and comedian, Dick Gregory appearing as our guest. It was not the first time that Mr. Gregory has joined us. But it was the first time that I can recall his appearance being loaded with so much significance. What made Mr. Gregory’s presence on our show last week so important was the reality that he was closely connected to the two major stories we were covering that day – the U.S. Senate vote to apologize for not passing anti-lynching legislation, and the rendering of a jury verdict in the Michael Jackson trial.

While many may still be unaware of it, Dick Gregory’s role in the U.S. Senate’s decision to apologize, could be described as nothing short of instrumental. A series of articles indicate the direct and indirect impact that Mr. Gregory had on the United States Senate, and two in particular, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Senator George Allen (D-Va.). One article, from Knight Ridder described:

Momentum for a Senate apology grew after the 2000 publication of "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America," by James Allen, a history based on postcards depicting lynchings. Spectators would buy and trade the postcards as souvenirs of the brutal events, which were often held at fairgrounds or in public squares.

In 2003, a group of activists formed "The Committee for A Public Apology" to press the Senate. It includes about 20 people, including comedian Dick Gregory, congressman and civil rights veteran John Lewis, D-Ga., and descendants of lynching victims. The committee sent letters to all 100 senators asking them to act, and Landrieu and Allen took up the cause.

The Washington Post was more specific:

Landrieu said she was motivated to propose the bill after seeing the book "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America," a collection of postcards taken at lynching scenes.

…Under the auspices of the Committee for a Formal Apology, activist Dick Gregory and others mailed copies of the book "Without Sanctuary" to senators. The crude images helped bring home the horror to some legislators who had given little thought to lynching, Planning said.

One postcard, depicting a corpse in 1910, read: "This is a token of a great day we had in Dallas March 3." Another, showing the burnt corpse of William Stanley in Temple, Tex., in 1915, read: "This is the barbecue we had last night . . . your son Joe." Allen and Landrieu agreed to lead the effort and have gained more than 50 co-sponsors.

"The intensity and impact of the pictures tell a story . . . that written words failed to convey," Landrieu said. "It has been an extremely emotional, educational experience for me. And the more I learned, the more sure I became [about] the effort to pass this resolution."

And USA Today added:

Sen. George Allen, R-Va., the measure's other co-sponsor, calls the apology "just a recognition of a sordid part of our history." He adds: "Lynching is something the Senate could have done something about."

Allen says civil rights activist Dick Gregory asked him in a letter to take the GOP lead on the resolution, which has the support of other black leaders, including Martin Luther King III.

I asked Dick Gregory about this "Committee For a Public Apology" and how it was established and he said, in blunt and humorous fashion, ‘there was no committee,’ explaining that he simply wrote a letter to Senator Allen and copies of the riveting photobook, "Without Sanctuary" were mailed.

As for the matter of the Michael Jackson case and what lies behind it, Dick Gregory - a family friend of the Jacksons - in past appearances with us, and last week explained how the desire on the part of several powerful people to obtain - from Michael Jackson - the ownership of the Beatles and Sony music catalog was a factor driving the allegations. Dick also explained that Michael owned much more than the Beatles’ catalog, and that Sony and some wealthy investors wanted it. We also learned that when Michael bought what he did from Sony, he did not realize that Little Richard’s catalog was part of it. When he did find out, Mr. Gregory said that Michael ‘gave’ it back to Little Richard, wanting the legend to have what his hard labor and talent had produced.

He held us all in rapt attention as he elaborated and revealed some things that he said he had not previously gotten into much. Mr. Gregory explained that one of the reasons why Michael Jackson was so wealthy and powerful was that in between the Off The Wall album and Thriller, Michael Jackson was approached by executives from Sony, who were complaining about how long it was taking for his second album (Thriller) to be made. They told Michael that they were losing money. According to Mr. Gregory, Michael asked them how much they were losing and that he would compensate them for their loss. In exchange he would ‘own’ his second album. Sony gave him a number, and Dick Gregory says Michael Jackson cut them a check, and later, due to the favorable concessions he obtained from the music division of the multi-national corporation, he reaped a tremendous share of the immense profits generated by the Thriller album.

Dick Gregory also informed us of why he was with Michael in recent days; what the ‘King of Pop’s health condition and state of mind was; and cleared up the confusion and controversy that surrounded his presence in Michael Jackson’s inner circle. In addition to this, Dick Gregory revealed that there was a deep connection between Michael Jackson’s singing, his skin condition and the child molestation charges. He said that when Michael was younger he was given hormones in order to keep his voice artificially high and one of the adverse side effects of this was discoloration in his skin pigmentation. The problem affected his entire body, except for an area right underneath his penis. Dick Gregory gingerly explained that in one of the earlier lawsuits filed against Michael Jackson, the prosecutor was permitted to take photographs of Michael’s genital area. And Dick Gregory said that Johnnie Cochran, in brilliant fashion, while representing Michael in 1993, recognized that these photographs could be used against Michael if the information that they revealed about Michael’s unique bodily characteristics were to be obtained by opportunists and false witnesses. As a result, the late attorney decided and advised Michael to settle the case for $30 million in order to keep the photographs from becoming more public, even though he believed his client was innocent. Mr. Gregory alluded to how this was the real reason for the settlement that was otherwise inexplicable to many legal observers.

More than just putting his money where his mouth is, Dick Gregory went on a fast and prayed during Michael's trial and released the following statement after the singer was found 'not guilty' on all counts:

"I just want to thank and praise God that the world has witnessed the power of prayer. Last November I asked people to pray for the truth to prevail when I started a 40 day fast and appealed to friends and fans around the world to join me in that prayer that the truth would come out in Michael's case. Now that we have seen Michael's vindication we should all be grateful to God."

Dick Gregory told us during the show that Michael probably had more people praying for him than anyone, maybe ever.

Dick Gregory is an unusual human being. His mind operates on many levels, and as a result he looks for things that others ignore or don’t want to see. And because he is an artist, he has cultural sensibilities that many other leaders lack. His curiosity, courage, thirst for knowledge, desire to educate and uplift, and his independent source of income, makes Dick Gregory a relatively unique leader among Black people. He has told me and others that he spends $200 each day on newspapers alone, looking for things – anecdotes, contradictions, little-known facts and the coverage of stories from a variety of angles. As a result, his common sense, ‘independent’ research and ‘behind-the-scenes’ relationships with political and business leaders, celebrities, journalists, and activists leads him to conclusions that consistently challenge orthodoxy and the status quo. He is not a contrarian or skeptic for the sake of it. He is a ‘truth seeker’ who follows a path to wherever it may lead him.

While some of us may not understand Dick Gregory and why he says and does what he does, it is hard to argue that his impact has not been felt for good, in a variety of ways.

Last Monday was one of those days that proves it. Even the record will bear witness to that.

Cedric Muhammad

Monday, June 20, 2005

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