(TriceEdneyWire.com) - The celebration of the life of Dick
Gregory on Saturday September 16th at the City of Praise church in Landover,
Md. was over seven hours of eclectic diversity from a serenade by Native
Americans to a musical tribute with Ayanna Gregg's daughter and Stevie Wonder,
to speakers MSNBC's Lawrence O' Donnell to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, to the fiery
Rep. Maxine Waters, who vowed to help impeach that "thing" in the
There were torrents of Hallelujahs and especially As-Salaam
Al-akum as Nation of Islam head Min. Louis Farrakhan began a profoundly
It was fascinating to see how a man born on Oct. 12,
1932, so far down in the cracks of society could rise so far: jailed
countless times in the fight for human rights; 13 books written; a star on
Hollywood's Walk of Fame, movie roles, a celebrated humorist and
global humanitarian. Born 85 years ago in the slums of St. Louis, his mother,
Lucille Gregory, had to put plastic on her feet to keep them from getting wet
as she walked to work. A White man knocked out two of his front teeth at
10-years old for touching a White woman as he shined her shoes; the family was
chronically evicted for the inability to pay their $18 monthly rent.
What kind of journalist would I have become if it had not
been for Gregory becoming my mentor and coach for more than three decades as I
tried to survive as a pioneering Black woman journalist in White newsrooms? I
have pondered this thought since his death, but intently on his birthday, Oct.
12. He had an incredible impact on my career.
He was the one who pushed me to go out on a limb for
unpopular people and for causes even if the limb broke off; how not to discount
conspiracies just because it is safer to believe a lie rather than an unpopular
truth; and how to look and expose the liars, the exploiters in high places, no
matter who and where they were.
Should I state the obvious how badly Gregory is still needed
Of course, following the Dick Gregory style book meant you
wouldn't have a job long. In some newsrooms the reward for not toeing the
company line, disbelieving that White is always right, and caring more for the
masses at the bottom than the big shots at the top means a swift kick out the
It was not unusual for Gregory to entice me to venture off
to distant lands or to stick my nose into events that sounded and looked
correct but would turn out to be rotten to the core.
Gregory was a renowned health enthusiast who developed
weight loss products, such as the Bahamian Diet, that were popular in the
In 1985, he developed a low cost nutritional product to
fight famine and took 50 truckloads of it to Ethiopia. I went with him and I
saw hundreds dying from starvation in resettlement camps in the desert. I
held in my hands, 5-year-old children so emaciated that they looked half their
ages, and women so exhausted that they collapsed as they walked. The products
he delivered saved many lives.
I began to understand that hunger and homelessness in the
world where people are dying from obesity is criminal. It is not because of a
lack of resources, but a lack of will, and the failure to hold governments,
such as that in Ethiopia accountable. Gregory's amazing success in Ethiopia did
not get press in the United States. But he told me his mission was saving
lives, which was all that mattered.
Even amidst such tears, Gregory could bring humor. On the
way back home from Ethiopia the plane stopped briefly in Rome and much to the
surprise of his friends, he grabbed his bag and headed for the exit.
"Why are you getting off here?" I hollered at
him. With a smile and a swagger he answered, "Don't forget I am an
international nigger," which left the rest of us laughing.
Dick Gregory was often shunned and slammed as a
"conspiracy nut." In time, he usually would be proved right. Greg and
I would often meet at some out of- the way place. He would pull out his big
battered brown brief case jammed with reports and facts counter to what the
news bosses wanted to see.
One day in 1996, he called me, "Barbara you know they
murdered Ron Brown." Brown was the first Black U.S. Secretary of
Commerce. On April 3, Brown died in a plane crash on a mountaintop in
Croatia along with 34 others.
"C'mon Greg, don't tell me that, I am in enough trouble
on my job." I knew news executives generally hated conspiracies.
Besides who would murder all those people to get at one man even though Brown
had been threatening to expose others in high places involved in illegal
campaign funding rather than taking the fall himself?
Nevertheless I met with Greg. He showed me some disturbing
reports. First the New York Times, had reported that Brown's body was so
mangled it would be virtually impossible to identify. Yet, Greg had a
picture that clearly showed Brown's body in tact at the crash site.
Time Magazine had reported there had been a terrible storm
that contributed to the crash, but later reports showed only drizzling
rain. Several investigators at Dover Delaware where Brown's body was
carried for examination, reported a circular hole in his skull that some
forensic experts said appeared to be from a gunshot; but the x-rays which could
have cleared up the matter turned up missing. In addition the manager of the
airport where the plane crashed reportedly committed "suicide,"
before investigators could conduct an interview.
Whether or not Brown was murdered was never proven and few
if any news groups tried to get to the bottom of how he died. Gregory and Rep.
Maxine Waters planted yellow crime scene tape banners around the Institute of
Pathology to highlight the case and Gregory was arrested for refusing to leave
the scene. I was also able to write several columns about Brown for USA
TODAY and several schools were named after Brown. And for many that
appears to be enough.
When the establishment would not budge to find the truth
behind the assassination of leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm
X, Gregory wrote books to shame the system for their closed minds.
In Callus On My Soul, he told how "the brothers who
shot Malcolm X were paid by the CIA," who he said had rented the Audubon
Ballroom where Malcolm X was murdered a week before.
In Code Name Zorro: The Murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
(with Mark Lane) he wrote how on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was murdered in
a conspiracy between the Memphis Police Department, the Mafia and the CIA,
which had a Black man planted on the balcony of the Memphis Lorraine Motel at
the time of the shooting.
The kinds of information Gregory unearthed hardly ever
received major news coverage because his facts ran counter to the acceptable
narratives of the news operations. In addition to those of us who insisted upon
using Gregory's truths rather than that of the major institutions were viewed
as untrustworthy and soon fell out of favor.
The Iran-Contra story, with my determination to ensure Greg
received his just due, was the last straw that helped separate me from my job
as a national reporter at a major Chicago newspaper.
In 1979 66 hostages had been taken by Iranian
revolutionaries, who were threatening to kill them. Greg made his way to Iran
to pray and fast for the hostages' release. The State Department and newsrooms
were feverishly looking hard for an American who could talk to the Ayatollah.
When the Ayatollah learned that Greg was in Iran and had fasted for peace
during his four month stay, losing 51 pounds, he invited him to meet with him.
Greg said the Ayatollah thanked Greg for coming and also prayed that the
hostage crisis would end peacefully.
Greg called me from Tehran giving me a first-hand report of
this significant development. Once the bombing and shootings in the background
sounded so real, I literally ducked under my desk, thinking the noise was from
outside my window. The Chicago Tribune ran the story for only one edition
but pulled it in later ones.
I was terribly upset by this because I knew if a White man
had met with the Ayatollah in the midst of such a crisis it would have been
major news. Eventually I wrote of his heroic venture in a cover story for
Playboy Magazine. Shortly after that, I was forced to part company with
On page 199 of Gregg's book Callus on My Soul he wrote:
"There is no better writer than Barbara Reynolds ..... She understands the
way this government works and the trickery that comes with it."
Clearly my understanding of the workings of certain
institutions and government came from my coach Gregory. It has left me
well equipped to monitor and write about the Trump presidency and those to
come-what is seen and unseen.
Thank you Mr. Gregory.