As the crowd ushered in through the auditorium doors, moving images of ‘Selma’ flashed across the screen as an uplifting musical accompaniment swelled to a climactic finish. Inside, the room was dimmed to a near perfect dark, obscuring the students as they filled row after row of seats. Regardless of their features, though, each silhouette came sharing one thing in common: A desire to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dick Gregory, historic civil rights activist and lauded comedian, carried the main proceedings of Georgia State’s 32nd Annual MLK Commemoration as only a survivor of the Jim Crow era could. As Gregory took to the stage, the crowd erupted into a storm of applause and adoration. Of course, Gregory also spoke as only a veteran political satirist could.
“I’m so glad Obama’s in the White House. Not for the reason ya’ll are. Until you came through, black folks told you all you got to do is work hard and get a good education,” Gregory said. “You’ve got a president who got all of that, and they treat him like a mangy dog looking around for something to eat.”
The crowd roared with applause following those remarks and a crackling energy filled the room. Gregory continued to speak, inciting another round of thunderous approval.
“White folks don’t hear you, but I hear you. You black women are about to hear what we say about you. You need to meet my new lady. She’s black, but she’s fine. Black men! And that doesn’t bother you? Oh, but Mary got good hair. What God do you believe in that makes good hair and bad hair?”
Of course, Gregory’s presentation included the biting humor he’s so widely known for, as numerous punchlines throughout the afternoon sent the crowd into a raucous explosion of laughter.
“Thank you, Dr. King. What a blessing. You black folks, you better be careful because King is smoking. He’s the biggest thing on the planet.” You need to get one of them old pictures of King … you notice the new pictures, his nose is a bit thin, and, look, he’s gettin’ lighter,” Gregory continued. “I’ll die for the ghetto. Black folks know I’ll die for the ghetto. But I ain’t livin’ there. I’ll go to St. Louis to visit my brothers and sisters, and they say ‘When you coming back?’, ‘I ain’t never coming back.’ Thank you, Dr. King,” Gregory continued.
Georgia State President Mark Becker also took to the stage prior to Gregory’s arrival, touting Georgia State’s progress as a racially diverse campus open students from a walks of life — something inconceivable decades ago.
“Fifty-one years ago, he gave the speech, and you all know it. When Dr. King spoke those words, there were three African-American students at Georgia State University. Fifty-one years later, Georgia State University now graduates more African-Americans than any non-profit university in the United States of America.”