It seems that folk no longer read comedian and activist Dick Gregory’s 1964 autobiography Nigger—actually, I don’t remember the Malcolm X t-shirt wearing, Public Enemy listening generation of mine discussing the work either. The 1990s political climate may have informed my decision to seek out this book. The back cover told a profoundly moving story that fueled my curiosity about the many everyday expressions of radicalism, thoughtfulness, historical rootedness, and political acumen that I observed from the folk in my own life. Gregory writes:
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 20 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.’
About that time these three cousins come in, you know the ones I mean, Klu, Kluck, and Klan, and they say: ‘Boy, we’re givin’ you fair warnin.’ Anything you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you.’ About then the waitress brought me my chicken. ‘Remember, boy, anything you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you.’ So I put down my knife and fork, and I picked up that chicken, and I kissed it.”
I wonder how those “cousins” looked when they left that restaurant; ready for war, but not for love.
Creativity emerges from the careful cultivation of one’s interior life. In Gregory’s instance, we see how in cultivating a rich interior life and reading the world you live in equips you with the tools to build peace in a world bent on destruction.