By Godfrey Lee.
Melvin Atkins contributed
to this story
With less than a 24-hour window in which to act, the Black History Year Committee and the Marin City community came together to host Richard “Dick” Gregory, one of America’s living legends and historic figures.
Top row from left: Melvin Atkins, Oshalla Dianne Marcus, Dick Gregory. Below: Dick Gregory speaking to the audience in the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City. Photos by Godfrey Lee.
Gregory had been in Oakland earlier last Thursday to help commemorate the 32nd anniversary and memorial of the massacre in Jonestown, Guyana. The Jonestown massacre, which occurred in 1978, took the lives of over 900 people, including 350 children and infants. The memorial was held at the Evergreen Cemetery and was organized by Jynona Norwood.
Gregory was one of several speakers at the memorial. “As a family man with 10 children and 12 grandchildren, I can feel the pain of that tragedy, and I want to share my sympathy with family and friends,” he said, identifying grief as a devastating experience that often kills those who cannot rise above it.
“So I say to this sister, thank you for (how), all by yourself, you got to the other side of this Jonestown tragedy,” Gregory said.
After attending the memorial, Gregory visited Marin City and spoke to a last minute crowd of nearly 70 residents and visitors. Speaking at the Martin Luther King Academy’s auditorium, Gregory said he views America as still being very racist and believes that Blacks must acknowledge this as they struggle to overcome racism.
He said that a handful of “real white folks” own almost all of the world’s wealth, and their share is growing every minute, while a good percentage of the rest of the world is getting poorer and poorer.
“White is a state of mind and money,” he declared, which led him to a discussion on class distinctions, and that it has been class and the pursuit of power and greed, even more than race, that has fueled colonialism, slavery and corporatism. Racism was used, but it was the greed that came first, he pointed out.
He talked about some of the questions that he had about his faith, and challenged the notion of a “jealous God who needed to be feared.” To bring this home, he pointed out that if he were jealous of his daughters, people would find that strange, and if he demanded that his children fear him, he would be considered a tyrant. “So why do our ministers ask us to believe that God is a jealous God to be feared?” he asked.
He reminded the audience that the Bible that most Black folks refer to is the King James version. “If I Dick Gregory had created the ‘Dick Gregory’ version of the Bible, you would certainly know that much of it would be filled with my perspective and viewpoint,” he said. “People would undoubtedly question and even challenge this version.” So why is it, he asked, “that more followers of the Bible know so little about King James?”
He also attacked what he called a time-honored tradition in the Black community of going to war to improve a person’s circumstances. “Anytime anyone has to kill someone to get ahead, the Universal Law will work its way, five generations down, for these are the actions of mercenaries, and it ain’t pretty.”
Looking at the world around us, he said we are responsible for what we have created, and it is up to us to build another way. “When you get to a point where you won’t tolerate it, then it won’t be tolerated,” Gregory said.