Monday, February 23, 2015

Nigger: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory


This was a challenging review to write. I’ve had it drafted for a while, but I didn’t think it was good enough. I still don’t. So to sum it up I’ll go ahead and tell you, Nigger makes my list of best books ever.

Migrations of the Heart by Marita Golden has been the book with the most memorable dedication I’ve read. That was until I opened this one:

Dear Momma - Wherever you are, if ever you hear the word “nigger” again, remember they are advertising my book.

I didn’t make it much further than that before realizing this would be the most emotionally taxing book I’ve read. I ultimately decided to read it in one sitting. It was too distressing to read daily. I started to wonder how so many misfortunes could befall one person.


Kids made fun of Gregory because he had an absentee father, and his family was on welfare. He discovers his knack for comedy when he begins using humor as a coping mechanism. But dealing with kids at school was only one of many worries. When his father was present, he was abusive and not providing financial support. Gregory was left to try and support the family with whatever money he could make from whatever jobs he could find. 

A boy having to provide for his family, as a man would, came with its own set of challenges. Gregory found himself in countless compromising situations. He never did tell his mother about the burdens he carried because in addition to helping her support the family, he felt he had to protect her.

Things started to turn around once he got to high school. He became a runner and even earned an athletic scholarship. He became Outstanding Athlete of the Year at Southern Illinois University. But he left college before graduating after determining that a degree was useless for a black man.

After doing a number of successful comedy shows, he was sure he could run a profitable comedy club of his own. He managed to borrow money from people that believed the same; however, it was only a matter of time before his luck turned again. A brutal Chicago winter had something else in store for Gregory's new business.  

As we know, things did eventually turn around. The second half of the book shifts to his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. He heads south after deciding that sending a check wasn't enough. As good as this book was, it felt incomplete. Maybe adding more would’ve taken something away. But he wrote several books after this one. I suspect they pick up where this one left off.

“I never learned hate at home, or shame. I had to go to school for that.”
Nigger: An Autobiography


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6 comments:

Jacqueline said...

I read this book awhile back, and I remember really appreciating this novel and Dick Gregory.

Shannon @ Reading Has Purpose said...

@Jacqueline, he was speaking in Baltimore about a year or so ago. I have no idea why I didn't go but I regret it now. I've seen him around a few times. His daughter is a singer and he usually comes out when she performs in DC.

Jacqueline said...

Yes, I saw them perform together at Busboy and Poet. He even use to come into the Beauty Shop to talk to my stylist.. Imagine that. lol

By the way, great post.

Sharon Henning said...

I read this book many years ago. I really enjoyed it. Gregory showed humor and compassion which really conquered every adversity he faced. I don't know if he's still alive, but he used to live close to my parents in Pensacola Florida.

Marvin Simpson said...

This book changed my life when I first read it. I was not only impressed with hour bright Mr. Gregory is but his ability to persevere and adapt provided insight for me. So many young black men today would resort to violence or crime in the same situation. Mr. Gregory showed that you can think your way out of situations: you don't always have to fight your way out. I am glad Shannon finally got around to reading the book. I told her she should listen to her father LOL.

Shannon @ Reading Has Purpose said...

@Sharon, that's a great point that I missed, the way he faced adversity. He is alive and, as far is I know, doing very well. I think he may live around the DC area. He's spotted here a lot.