Several thousand mourners packed into a Landover, Md. church listened as friends, family and admirers lionized comedian, social justice warrior, civil rights activist and provocateur Dick Gregory. The spirited, electric memorial service on Saturday, Sept. 18, turned out to be more celebration than funeral.
Gregory’s passing brought together a constellation of local, national and international celebrities and luminaries from the arts, entertainment, politics and sports as well as ordinary people, all whose lives Gregory touched over the course of his 84 years.
Among the descriptors used: Firestarter, agitator, freedom fighter, legend, peacemaker, genius, artist, teacher, guide.
“We experience the loss not of a comedian but the loss of one sent from above to be a guide, a teacher, a friend, a teacher, an activist, a giver, a sufferer, one of the most marvelous human beings I have had the privilege of meeting during my 84 years of life on this planet,” said Minister Louis Farrakhan, who gave the eulogy.
He continued, “I enjoyed every speaker, every song, every word … Everyone who spoke represented the matchless, exquisite diamond that Dick Gregory represented and as the light shined on that diamond in every direction a different color because he was a man who represented every color of the sun,” he said. “His mind was always on justice and on peace, on freedom and equity, not only for Nlack people, but all who were deprived.”
Speaking of Gregory’s dogged research, he said Gregory would bring a suitcase with materials and newspapers giving facts and figures, things he heard and sought the truth about.
“Dick Gregory had us laughing but he was not a comedian. Even his jokes were filled with wisdom. He was so far beyond dogma and doctrine and rituals of religion. I loved to hear Dick talk about the real God, the Universal God because he had grown and outgrown the negativity of denominationalism and the sectarianism of religion. He wanted us to grow into where he was.”
Farrakhan had been proceeded by a parade of stars of sorts bring reflections about Gregory from every walk of life.
“I’m so pleased that you organized a real celebration where you’re not ending quickly and trying to shut people up. I’m going to take as long as I want,” said U. S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) to peals of laughter and applause. “I have talked to Dick for hours. We would talk – no, he would talk – about things going on in the world. He brought me to this time and place in my life.”
For more than six hours, in a service “Celebrating the Life of a Legend,” people regaled attendees spread over the City of Praise Family Ministries with stories about Richard Claxton Gregory. The speakers also included Stevie Wonder, Bill and Camille Cosby, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, members of the American Indian Movement, The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and the Hon. Louis Farrakhan.
“I praise him who has brought us all together,” said Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers and a close friend of Gregory’s. “I give thanks to Dick Gregory for this. I recommend that we love each other, recommend that we hold the memories and hopefully rededicate ourselves to the ideals that Dick Gregory believed in.”