In its 10th anniversary observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Alden Theater in McLean will present the iconic civil rights activist and no-holds-barred comedian Dick Gregory.
Why Gregory to bring forth the enduring legacy of Dr. King?
For one, the now 80-year-old Gregory was there, right there, with King during those tumultuous times five decades ago. He was there working with prominent civil rights organizations as the civil rights movement took the case for equality for all Americans to the broad American public. He performed in fund-raising shows for the movement as well as participated in nonviolent civil disobedience actions.
In a recent wide-ranging interview, Gregory provided hints of what the audience can expect. He can be expected to speak about the progress made over the decades and hopes and expectations for the future, and will have an open question-and-answer period after his remarks. His well-known comedic talents were also clear as he used humor to sometimes talk about events of those times.
When Gregory surveys what has been and what may be in the future, he said he looks for and through “the cracks in the fabric” before him. What may be behind the fabric intrigues him immensely; he wants others to be intrigued as well. Nothing is off-limits to Gregory’s keen, close observation. He wants to find the facts, as he may see them and bring out for others to contemplate.
Whether the audience consists of Baby Boomers who may remember quite distinctly those days as only a blink of the eye away in memory, or those many born after the April 1968 assassination of Dr, King, Gregory wants those times to come alive.
For Gregory, Dr. King was a great man “who changed the whole world.” He readily said that Dr. King “changed his life.” Listening to Gregory is to be guided through connections and coincidences unnoticed before, but which are like “ah-ha” moments to mull over.
In describing how Dr. King changed the world. Gregory made clear that even when the cameras were not around, “Dr. King was the same man in private that you saw in public..what you saw was him.”
Gregory also spoke of others who made a difference in America. One was the abolitionist John Brown, who had an enormous impact upon the America of his time just moments before the Civil War began, as “if an earthquake had hit... as he took up arms to free the slaves” in 1859 at Harper’s Ferry.
Speaking of his nonviolent way of life that came about “through knowing Dr. King,” Gregory made clear that killing is wrong, and that he would never lift a gun against another. He also spoke of his long-standing work with the women’s movement so that women could go into fields once closed to them.
As we head into the new year, it will soon be the 50th anniversary of the August 1963 March on Washington when Dr. King spoke of having his dream. “I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” Less than five years later he was assassinated while in Memphis, Tenn.
For those not yet born in 1968, the year of Dr. King’s assassination, this is an opportunity to hear Gregory bear a first-person account of those times of turmoil, and to ask questions of him.
Gregory has a way of bringing names of cities and events such as Selma, Birmingham and Memphis to life. They were not just grainy black-and-white photographic images in a dusty history book or found on the Internet. Sam Cooke’s words and voice wafted about along with Dr, King’s and Gregory’s. It was Cooke’s 1963 composition; “There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long/but now I think I’m able to carry on/It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.”
There will be many commemorations in this calendar year for events that took place 50 years ago in 1963. The New Year can start off fittingly with the McLean Community Center’s observance of the Martin Luther King Jr., Day.