Comedian Dick Gregory’s wit has propelled his political activism ever since his first standup routines in the 1950s. His latest book, “Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies” (HarperCollins), features provocative essays about American history through the perspective of African Americans whose stories are not frequently told (or are mischaracterized) in history lessons. With biting wit and righteous indignation, Gregory counters the adage that history is written by the winners; sometimes all sides’ stories do get told, if we are open to hearing them.
In the excerpt below, Gregory writes about a surprising conversation he had with activist Rosa Parks, who found herself on the front lines of the civil rights battles in Alabama while sitting inside a local bus.
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One day I was talking to Rosa Parks. I said to her, just teasing her, “When you refused to give up your seat on that bus, you wasn’t just tired like white folks said you was.”
She started crying, and I couldn’t believe the answer she gave me.
Martin Luther King Jr., who gets all the credit for everything, was just an earnest Baptist preacher. His consciousness came from the white schools he went to. And he had that twang that Baptist preachers have that white folks can’t understand. That’s why all we ever heard of him on the TV networks were sound bites — “Goin’ to the mountaintop” and the rest of that stuff you hear year in and year out on his birthday.
But think about Rosa Parks and the effect she had on the whole planet. She didn’t have a church behind her, like King did, but look what she did. When she refused to give up her bus seat to a white dude, and got arrested for it, black and white folks rallied around her.
That day I spoke to her — we were just kicking back, having dinner at…