Just a little over a year ago Dick Gregory passed away. Defining Moments in Black History was his last book. Dick Gregory was most well known as a comedian. His comedy albums in the 1960s and 1970s as well as his comedy tours and TV appearances made him nationally known. But Gregory was also a political activist. He ran for Chicago mayor against Richard J Daley in 1967. He was signficantly involved in the Civil Rights movement.
And as you hear throughout this book, he was at or participated in or knew personally many of the people or events that he is talking about.
I have no idea how to really talk about this book. Much of it is just standard recounting of the parts of history that are routinely ignored or white washed. But other parts are just crazy town conspiracy theories. I think that is part of what Gregory is known for. What is hard to talk about is that not all of the conspiracy theories he is talking about are simply theories. Plots against MLK by the FBI are not conspiracy theories. Cointelpro and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment are not conspiracy theories.
And then there are the parts that may have some validity, but are unlikely. Coretta Scott King and many others believe that there was a broader conspiracy to kill Martin Luther King Jr. From what I can tell, there is circumstantial evidence, but not definitive proof that the FBI, the Memphis Police or other government agencies played a role in MLK’s assassination. But there is enough evidence for the discussion.
I am very concerned about unverified sharing of conspiracy theories. Alex Jones and others have made their livelihood sharing these false narratives and they harm actual people. This is not just entertainment. Dick Gregory, according to Wikipedia actually was on Alex Jones’ show at least three times.
So I really do have a hard time recommending this book because some of it is just straight trash. On the other hand, most of the book is really good. Much of our understanding of Black history is poor and many people of all races do not have a real understanding of the many important roles in all history that Blacks (mostly Americans in this book) played in history.
The problem with recommending a book like this, is that if you do not have at least a decent background in Black History and conspiracy theories it would be hard to know what is what. And honestly there are probably at least a few that I dismissed that have some validity to them. The problem is that it is likely people like Gregory that talk about them, but we need some good academic historians to do it as well. But academic historians with the chops to do the work tend to not spend much time in this type of high contentious subject areas.
The best parts of the book are his personal touches. The fact that he knew so many people he talked about does matter and if you do read the book, I think that is probably the best reason to read it.