Dick Gregory for President

 

With all of the controversy about whether or not Cape Girardeau’s Rush Limbaugh should be in the Hall of Famous Missourians, I stumbled across a Show Me state resident who deserves a nomination – Dick Gregory. I was looking for something else the other day and stumbled across these photos of Gregory speaking at Ohio University in 1968.

I was surprised to find that (a) he was from St. Louis and went to school at Southern Illinois University and (b) he was still alive.

The Black Mort Sahl

The biography on his website says that he was African American comedian and civil rights activist whose social satire changed the way white Americans perceived African American comedians.

He was part of a new generation of black comedians that includes Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby and Godfrey Cambridge. They broke with the minstrel tradition, which portrayed blacks as stereotypes.

Gregory, who had a dry, satirical wit, came to be known as the “Black Mort Sahl.” (Friends of Gregory would refer to Sahl as “the White Dick Gregory.” I was fortunate to cover Bill Cosby when he played Ohio University at about the same time.

Nigger” was best-seller

I bought his autobiography, Nigger, when it was published in 1963 (when it was on its way to becoming the number one best-seller in the country), but I never felt comfortable walking around with the cover showing, even though he explained in his forward that he had written a note to his mother saying, “Whenever you hear the word ‘Nigger,’ you’ll know they’re advertising my book.”

Routine impressed Hugh Hefner

He got one his earliest breaks when Hugh Hefner heard him perform this routine in front of a mostly white audience when he had been brought in as a last-minute replacement:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night.

Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, “We don’t serve colored people here.” I said, “That’s all right. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.”

Then these three white boys came up to me and said, “Boy, we’re giving you fair warning. Anything you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you”. So I put down my knife and fork, I picked up that chicken and I kissed it. Then I said, “Line up, boys!”

His temporary gig at the Chicago Playboy Club lasted three years.

Gregory changed my career

I was covering the event for The Ohio University Post. Much to my surprise, I got a call from The Athens Messenger, the local paper, asking if they could run my photo taken of Gregory while he waiting to go on. It was a surprise because I had seen photographer Bob Rogers at the press conference earlier that day, and I assumed that he must have covered the speech as well.

See, newspapers HATE to pick up something from a competitor. Now, The Post was the university student newspaper and The Messenger was the “real” paper, so we weren’t exactly competitors, but I always looked to see how I had stacked up against Bob or Jon Webb when we had been at the same event.

I was flattered that they wanted the art, so I offered it up quickly. I think that’s probably what led to them offering me an internship that summer. When they couldn’t find anyone who would work as long, hard (and cheap) as I would, it turned into a full-time job. When Bob moved on, I became chief photographer.

 Write-in Candidate for President

Gregory ran for president in 1968  as a candidate of the Freedom and Peace Party, a splinter group of the Peace and Freedom Party. His button reads, “Write in Dick Gregory President for Peace in ’68.”

I guess I can add him to the list of presidents and presidential candidates I’ve covered.

Standing ovation

Gregory’s speech was well-received by the mostly white audience. Even though I was busy shooting the event from a multitude of positions, I heard enough to be impressed by the way he managed to get his point across without stabbing anyone with it.

I think he opened some eyes that evening. Most of us hadn’t heard that perspective before.

This site has an interesting collection of Dick Gregory quotes. In some he’s funny; in others he’s ironically angry; in others, he’s thought-provoking.

Interesting body language

I didn’t notice it when I edited the film in 1968, but take a look at the photo gallery. There’s an interesting contrast in body language between the white students and the black students at the afternoon press conference.

I see a lot of crossed arms and furrowed brows. I’m not sure the black students were as receptive to Gregory’s message as the white students.

Dick Gregory Photo gallery

I included a bunch of press conference photos in the gallery to show some of the folks I worked with in those days: Bob Rogers, Tom Price, Ed Pieratt and some radio and TV guys who look familiar (but we print guys didn’t bother pay much attention to them). Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

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John Glenn Runs for Senate

It’s been 50 years since John Glenn made his trip around earth in the Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft. Eight years later, he was brought to earth in a different way when he failed to win the Ohio Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. He lost to Howard Metzenbaum, who lost to Robert Taft, Jr., in the general election.

These photos were taken when he was campaigning in Athens, Ohio, in 1970.

The Gold Star Mothers speech

Glenn and Metzenbaum faced off again in 1974. Metzenbaum contrasted his strong business background with Glenn’s military and astronaut credentials, saying his opponent had “never worked for a living.”

Glenn’s reply came to be known as the “Gold Star Mothers” speech. He told Metzenbaum to go to a veterans’ hospital and “look those men with mangled bodies in the eyes and tell them they didn’t hold a job. You go with me to any Gold Star mother and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job.”

Began Senate career that lasted until 1999

After besting Metzenbaum in the primary, he beat his Republican opponent and held the Senate seat until 1999.

John Glenn photo gallery

Missourian photographer Fred Lynch’s blog had a photo of John Glenn campaigning for Robert Kennedy in Cape in 1968. I didn’t shoot Glenn there, but I did snag these photos of the astronaut two years later. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

 

 

 

Elections in a Simpler Time

I really miss the day before PACs and big money took over political campaigns. There was a time when you could put on a campaign rally with a few convertibles and a handful of locals folks willing to don sashes and straw hats and wave at their neighbors. This Goldwater parade is headed north on Sprigg, passing the Ford dealership. The signs, of course, had to sport the union “bug.” Click on any photo to make it larger.

Goldwater Girls

Even national campaigns had campy things like Goldwater Girls wearing homemade costumes, shown here when Barry Goldwater made a campaign swing through Cairo.

Bury Goldwater

A couple of boys on bicycles with “Bury Goldwater” signs offered a counterpoint to the Young Republican floats in the 1964 SEMO Homecoming Parade. You had the feeling in those days that folks could support a candidate, but still have a cup of coffee with someone who backed the opposition.

Where did those simpler days go?

Billy Graham Turns 93

Most newspapers have canned obits of famous people ready to go. When I saw the Rev. Billy Graham was in the hospital several months ago, I remembered that I had shot Billy Graham Day in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 15, 1971. I’d better pull out those files “just in case,” I thought.

As it turned out, the Preacher to the Presidents got better and was released from the hospital. I’m happy to use the occasion of his 93rd birthday today as an excuse to run the photos.

Billy Graham Day and Richard Nixon

Billy Graham Day had several political subplots.

President Richard Nixon had appeared with Graham in Knoxville, TN., in May 1970, the first time a president had spoken on the stage with an evangelist, according to reports I’ve read. The mostly sympathetic audience’s reaction to protestors who showed up gave the President’s re-election team an idea. The Watergate hearings uncovered a plot to plant agents provocateur in the crowd to cause trouble, then have pickup trucks of “cowboys” show up to “let things happen.”

Event figured in Watergate Hearings

Apparently those shenanigans never got beyond the frat boy talking stage, but the “fake ticket” ruse WAS employed. An advance man would demand to see a protestor’s ticket, pronounce it “fake” and have him escorted away.

Nixon beams at crowd

I don’t remember anything about the President’s speech. The paper’s religion writer was along with me to cover the event, so I could concentrate on shooting and not have to worry about taking notes.

Published accounts say that he praised the minister’s family, “Let me just say this, we all think of Billy Graham as a strong man. But as I look at the Graham family, if I am asked who are stronger, Billy Graham or the women in his family, I’ll say the women every time…God made man out of the soft earth but he made woman out of a hard rib – the woman is the stronger of the two.”

Ruth Graham ambivalent

Patricia Daniels Cornwell wrote in Ruth, A Portrait: The story of Ruth Bell Graham that Mrs. Graham had her own private ambivalence about Nixon’s appearance on her husband’s platform. “I think to have [presidents] come and sit in the audience is one thing. To have them speak from the platform is another.”

“What is your affiliation, Young Man”

Bill Williams, editor of The Gastonia Gazette, thought it would be a neat story idea to send the religion writer and me over to Charlotte to the rally on a church bus to get some local flavor.

I had no sooner boarded the bus when a blue-haired, primly attired little old lady accosted me. “What is your affiliation, Young Man? she demanded.

Somewhat taken aback by her tone, but raised to be polite to my elders, I replied, “I’m with The Gastonia Gazette, Mam. Would you like to see my identification?”

“I mean your RELIGIOUS affiliation.”

Looking at me like she would look at her shoe if she sensed that she had just stepped in something unpleasant, and speaking slowly and enunciating clearly because it had just become obvious that everything she had been told about Yankees was true, she gave an audible “sniff” and asked again, “Young man, I mean what is your RELIGIOUS affiliation?”

“Well, Mam, to be honest, despite eight years of parochial schooling, I mostly serve as a bad example.”

She didn’t invite me to sit next to her.

I don’t recall the ride BACK on the bus, either. I think I might have called one of the other photographers to drive the 19 miles over to Charlotte to pick us up. I would have had no problem approving his mileage for THAT trip.

Photo Gallery of Billy Graham Day

Here’s a collection of photos from the Nixon / Graham rally. Click on any photo to maker it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery. Happy Birthday Mr. Graham.

 

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.