Dick Gregory has died at age 84. Incredibly important and influential as a civil rights activist who was also a humorist and stand up comic and author, Gregory was portrayed just last year off Broadway by Joe Morton in a one man play called “Turn Em Loose.” He came up at the same time as Bill Cosby (whose own role in similar capacities is not invalidated by his legal problems).
Dick Gregory came into my consciousness in 1968 (I was 11) because he made headlines for going on a hunger strike. This was after he was already famous as humorist and comic. This was shocking. He protested the lack of rights for Native Americans in Washington state. It would become the first of many hunger strikes Gregory would use as a method of protest from his early days right up til age 80.
They say we should pick our battles carefully, that we don’t have to go to every fight we’re invited to, but some annoyances just can’t be ignored, as CNN reporter Jim Acosta reminded us in his overbearing confrontation with White House adviser Stephen Miller.
Immigration used to be the essence of the American Dream. Indeed, we made it our national motto: “E pluribus unum,” or “Out of many, one.”
But that notion has taken quite a pounding from revisionists, activists and political opportunists who’ve turned immigration into an explosive issue.
Acosta, asking if the White House “was trying to change what it means to be an immigrant,” smugly reminded Miller the other day the Statue of Liberty “doesn’t say anything about speaking English.”
Maybe that’s because it never needed to be said.
There’s a wonderful memory here of a neighbor, Ostilio Mastrobattista, known to all as Gus, who came to America by way of Ellis Island, starting out from the hills of Lenola, halfway between Rome and Naples.
Gus was a gifted baker for Dorothy Muriel, Sunshine Biscuit and First National Stores before finally opening his own shop on Tremont Street, just a few blocks away from Mission Church in Roxbury.