Nigger: An Autobiography

Nigger: An Autobiography

by Dick Gregory, Robert Lipsyte

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Overview

Comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory’s million-copy-plus bestselling memoir—now in trade paperback for the first time.

“Powerful and ugly and beautiful...a moving story of a man who deeply wants a world without malice and hate and is doing something about it.”—The New York Times

Fifty-five years ago, in 1964, an incredibly honest and revealing memoir by one of the America's best-loved comedians and activists, Dick Gregory, was published. With a shocking title and breathtaking writing, Dick Gregory defined a genre and changed the way race was discussed in America.

Telling stories that range from his hardscrabble childhood in St. Louis to his pioneering early days as a comedian to his indefatigable activism alongside Medgar Evers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gregory's memoir riveted readers in the sixties. In the years and decades to come, the stories and lessons became more relevant than ever, and the book attained the status of a classic. The book has sold over a million copies and become core text about race relations and civil rights, continuing to inspire readers everywhere with Dick Gregory's incredible story about triumphing over racism and poverty to become an American legend.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593086148
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/11/2019
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 68,671
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

A friend of luminaries including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Medgar Evers, and the forebear of today's popular black comics, including Larry Wilmore, W. Kamau Bell, Dave Chappelle, and Trevor Noah, Dick Gregory was a provocative and incisive cultural force for more than 50 years. As an entertainer, he always kept it indisputably real about race issues in America, fearlessly lacing humor with hard truths. As a leading activist against injustice, he marched at Selma during the civil rights movement, organized student rallies to protest the Vietnam War; sat in at rallies for Native American and feminist rights; fought apartheid in South Africa; and participated in hunger strikes in support of Black Lives Matter. He died in 2017.

Read an Excerpt

I

 

It's a sad and beautiful feeling to walk home slow on Christmas Eve after you've been out hustling all day, shining shoes in the white taverns and going to the store for the neighbors and buying and stealing presents from the ten-cent store, and now it's dark and still along the street and your feet feel warm and sweaty inside your tennis sneakers even if the wind finds the holes in your mittens. The electric Santa Clauses wink at you from windows. You stop off at your best friend's house and look at his tree and give him a ball-point pen with his name on it. You reach into your shopping bag and give something to everybody there, even the ones you don't know. It doesn't matter that they don't have anything for you because it feels so good to be in a warm happy place where grownups are laughing. There are Daddies around. Your best friend's so happy and excited, standing there trying on all his new clothes. As you walk down the stairs you hear his mother say: "Boo, you forgot to say good-by to Richard, say good-by to Richard, Boo, and wish him a . . ."

 

Then you're out on the street again and some of the lights have gone out. You take the long way home, and Mister Ben, the grocer, says: "Merry Christmas, Richard," and you give him a present out of the shopping bag, and you smile at a wino and give him a nickel, and you even wave at Grimes, the mean cop. It's a good feeling. You don't want to get home too fast.

 

And then you hit North Taylor, your street, and something catches your eye and you lift your head up and it's there in your window. Can't believe it. You start running and the only thing in the whole world you're mad about is that you can't run fast enough. For the first time in a long while the cracked orange door says: "Come on in, little man, you're home now," and there's a wreath and lights in the window and a tree in the kitchen near the coal closet and you hug your Momma, her face hot from the stove. Oh, Momma, I'm so glad you did it like this because ours is new, just for us, everybody else's tree been up all week long for other people to see, and, Momma, ours is up just for us. Momma, oh, Momma, you did it again.

 

My beautiful Momma smiled at me like Miss America, and my brothers and sisters danced around that little kitchen with the round wooden table and the orange-crate chairs.

 

"Go get the vanilla, Richard," said Momma, "Presley, peel some sweet potatoes. Go get the bread out the oven, Dolores. You get away from that duckling, Garland. Ronald, oh, Ronald, you be good now, stand over there with Pauline. Oh, Richard, my little man, did you see the ham Miz White from the Eat Shop sent by, and the bag of nuts from Mister Myers and the turkey from Miz King, and wouldn't you know, Mister Ben, he . . ."

 

"Hey, Momma, I know some rich people don't got this much, a ham, and a turkey, Momma. . . ."

 

"The Lord, He's always looking out for my boys, Richard, and this ain't all, the white folks'll be by here tomorrow to bring us more things."

 

Momma was so happy that Christmas, all the food folks brought us and Mister Ben giving us more credit, and Momma even talked the electric man into turning the lights on again.

 

"Hey, Momma, look here, got a present for Daddy. A cigarette lighter, Momma, there's even a place to scratch a name on it."

 

"What you scratch on it, Richard, Big Pres or Daddy?"

 

"Nothing, Momma. Might have to give Daddy's present to old Mister White from the Eat Shop again."

 

She turned away and when she turned back her eyes were wet. Then she smiled her Miss America smile and grabbed my shoulder. "Richard, my little man, if I show you something, you won't tell nobody, will you?"

 

"What is it, Momma?"

 

"I got something for you."

 

"Oh, Momma, you forgot, everything's under the tree."

 

"This is something special, just for you, Richard."

 

"Thanks, Momma, oh, thanks, how'd you know I wanted a wallet, Momma, a real wallet like men have?"

 

Momma always gave each of us something special like that, something personal that wasn't under the tree, something we weren't supposed to tell the other kids about. It always came out, though. Garland and I'd be fighting and one of us would say, "Momma likes me better than you, look what she gave me," and we both found out the other got a secret present, too.

 

But I loved that wallet. First thing I did was fill out the address card. If I got hit by a car someone would know who I am. Then I put my dollars in it, just like men do. Ran outside that night and got on a streetcar and pulled out my wallet and handed the conductor a dollar.

 

"Got anything smaller, boy?"

 

"Sure, Mister," I said and I pulled out my wallet again and took a dime out of the coin purse and snapped it shut and put the dollar back in the long pocket and closed the wallet and slipped it into my back pocket. Did the same thing on the way back home.

 

Did we eat that night! It seemed like all the days we went without food, no bread for the baloney and no baloney for the bread, all the times in the summer when there was no sugar for the Kool-Aid and no lemon for the lemonade and no ice at all were wiped away. Man, we're all right.

 

After dinner I went out the back door and looked at the sky and told God how nobody ever ate like we ate that night, macaroni and cheese and ham and turkey and the old duckling's cooking in the oven for tomorrow. There's even whiskey, Momma said, for people who come by. Thanks, God, Momma's so happy and even the rats and roaches didn't come out tonight and the wind isn't blowing through the cracks.

 

How'd you know I wanted a wallet, God? I wonder if all the rich people who get mink coats and electric trains got that one little thing nobody knew they wanted. You know, God, I'm kinda glad you were born in a manger. I wonder, God, if they had let Mary in the first place she stopped at, would you have remembered tonight? Oh, God, I'm scared. I wish I could die right now with the feeling I have because I know Momma's going to make me mad and I'm going to make her mad, and me and Presley's gonna fight. . . .

 

"Richard, you get in here and put your coat on. Get in here or I'll whip you."

 

See what I mean, God, there she goes already and I'm not even cold, I'm all wrapped up in You.

 

"What's wrong, Richard? Why you look so strange?"

 

"You wouldn't understand, Momma."

 

"I would, Richard, you tell me."

 

"Well, I came out to pray, Momma, way out here so they wouldn't hear me and laugh at me and call me a sissy. God's a good God, ain't He, Momma?"

 

"Yes, Richard."

 

"Momma, if I tell you something, would you laugh at me, would you say I'm crazy, would you say I was lying? Momma?"

 

"What is it, Richard?"

 

"I heard Him talk to me, Momma."

 

She put her arm around my shoulders and pulled me against her. "He talks to people, Richard, some people that are real special and good like you. Do me a favor, Richard?"

 

"Sure, Momma."

 

"Next time you talk to Him, ask Him to send Daddy home."

 

"Let me stay up and look out the window with you, Momma."

 

"Everybody's in bed, Richard."

 

"All my life, Momma, I wanted to stay up with you on Christmas Eve and look out that window with you, Momma. I won't laugh at you."

 

"What you mean, Richard?"

 

"You're waiting on him, ain't you? I know, Momma, every Christmas Eve you take a bath and put on that perfume and those clothes from the rich white folks and get down there on your knees in front of that window looking for Daddy."

 

"Richard, you better get on to bed."

 

"I know, Momma, that whiskey ain't for people coming by, that's for Daddy."

 

"Richard, you go on to bed and when he gets here I'll wake you up."

 

"No, Momma, I want to sit up with you . . . Momma?"

 

"Yes, Richard?"

 

"I shoulda got a present for Mister White, 'cause I know Daddy's coming to get his this year."

 

 

There were a lot of things I wanted to tell Momma that night while we sat and waited for Daddy, while we prayed on our knees, and dozed and hugged each other against the cold and jumped up like jacks every time we heard a noise on the street. But I never did. Sometimes I think she knew anyway.

 

I wanted to say to her, Momma, you remember that day I came home and told you I was at Doctor Jackson's house? And how he liked me, Momma, and told me I'd be a good doctor? How he's going to help me learn to read, and how he told me when it gets too cold to study in my house I could come by his house? Remember that, Momma? It was a lie. I played all that day in a vacant lot.

 

I guess she knew. She never pressed me for names when I told her about all the people who liked me, all the people I created in my mind, people to help poor folks. I couldn't believe God had made a world and hadn't put none of those people in it.

 

I made up a schoolteacher that loved me, that taught me to read. A teacher that didn't put me in the idiot's seat or talk about you and your kind. She didn't yell at me when I came to school with my homework all wrinkled and damp. She understood when I told her it was too cold to study in the kitchen so I did my homework under the covers with a flashlight. Then I fell asleep. And one of the other five kids in bed must have peed on it.

 

I'd go out and sweat and make five dollars. And I'd come home and say, Momma, Mister Green told me to bring this to you. Told me he liked you. Told me he wished he could raise his kids the way you're raising us. That wasn't true, Momma.

 

Remember all those birthday parties I went to, Momma? Used to steal things from the ten-cent store and give the best presents. I'd come home and tell you how we played pillow kiss and post office and pin the tail on the donkey and how everybody liked me? That was a lie, Momma. One girl cried and ran away when she threw the pillow and it hit me. She opened her eyes and saw she was supposed to kiss me and she cried and ran away.

 

And on my birthday, Momma, when I came home with that shopping bag full of presents and told you the kids in my class loved me so much they all got me things? That wasn't true. I stole all those little things from the ten-cent store and wrapped them up and put a different kid's name on each one.

 

"Oh, Richard, if he don't show up this time . . ."

 

"He's comin', Momma, it's like you said. He got held up in traffic, the trains were full."

 

"You know, Richard, your Daddy's a cook, he has to work on Christmas."

 

"He'll be here, Momma, you go put those clothes back on."

 

 

Remember when those people came by and told you how dirty we were, how they didn't want us playing with their kids or coming into their houses? They said we smelled so bad. I was six then, and Presley was almost eight. You cried all night, Momma, and then you told us to stay home until you could get us some new clothes. And you went and hid all the clothes we had. Momma, it was summertime and we couldn't just lay there, crying and watching out the window at the kids play running tag, and rip and run, and get called in for their naps, and get called in for their dinners. And we looked all over for our clothes, down in the basement, in the coal closet, under the stove, and we couldn't find them. And then we went through your things, Momma, and put on the dresses you never wore, the dresses the rich white folks gave you. And then we went outside to play. The people laughed at us when we went outside in your dresses, pointed and slapped their legs. We never played so good as we played that summer, with all those people watching us. When we came off the porch those Negro doctors and lawyers and teachers waiting to get into White's Eat Shop across the street would nudge each other and turn their heads. And when the streetcar stopped on the corner, right in front of our house, the people would lean out the windows and stare. Presley and I would wave at them. We did it all that summer, and after a while nobody bothered us. Everybody got to know that the Gregory boys didn't have clothes so they wore their mother's dresses. We just made sure we were home before you got there, Momma.

 

"How do I look, Richard?"

 

"You look okay, Momma."

 

"These are the best pair of shoes I got, Miz Wallace gave me them, but they're summer shoes."

 

"What you mean, summer shoes? Those are the black and white ones I like so much, the ones you never wear. I didn't know they were summer shoes."

 

"You never see folks wear white shoes in the wintertime."

 

"People dye them, Momma. I'll dye them for you so you can put them on and Daddy can see you."

 

"Oh, Richard, there won't be time, they got to dry."

 

"Don't worry, Momma, you burn the dye and it dries right while you wear it."

 

I've dyed a lot of shoes, Momma, down on my hands and knees in the taverns, dyeing shoes and shining shoes. I never told you too much about the things I did and the things I saw. Momma, remember the time I came home with my teeth knocked in and my lip all cut? Told you I tripped downstairs. Momma, I got kicked. Right in the face.

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Nigger 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
JsmithJS More than 1 year ago
A Great Book! I Think Everyone of all races should read this book. This Book made me realize how fortunate we are, From the 60's to the Generation of today we are bless to have Strong african americans to fight for something that a generation of today would not do! I Thank Mr. Gregory for his Courage and Strength to stand up for not only the African american community but Humans in general. Jeremy Smith of Houston Texas
Guest More than 1 year ago
Words can not express the way this book made me feel after reading it. I have a new perspective on life and I do not take anything for granted. It should be a required reading for high school students, its awesome...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I chose this book for my 10th grade english class and was blown away by how good it was. For him to come from such poverty to where he is now. This, i think, speaks for alot of the African American society. This book go to show how hard work and determination can bring outstanding results.
Eugene_A More than 1 year ago
Living in today's times, it is very difficult for anyone to imagine that years earlier, before Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, before people would march to protest the injustice, and before people would risk their jobs, lives, and families to fight for what they believe, people were classified by the color of their skin. It didn't matter how smart you were or how rich you were. A lowly "white" construction worker with minimal pay would always be above a "black" doctor. This autobiography is amazing how Dick Gregory started from humble beginnings. He wasn't expected to make it big like he did. Throughout his childhood and teen years, he has been poor and on relief, and treated as a second-class citizen in a United States led by the white man. I really like how detailed the memoir goes into Greg's life. His life really was a roller coaster. He could be in a white night club cracking jokes one night, and stuffed into a cell at the police station the next. Once I started reading and I was hooked. I really liked it because it was almost like a typical Martin Luther King Jr.-like story, where the underdogs, Greg and his people, would fight the white man's ways, and eventually win. There are also some tidbits of stories and funny material from his shows to keep the reader engaged. I'm sure that everyone needs to read this book!
anthonybeal More than 1 year ago
This autobiography made me appreciate even more fully how fortunate I am to have been born when I was. African-Americans of generations not so far removed from mine dealt with social, political, and economic injustices that nowadays can scarcely be imagined as once having been perfectly legal right here in the "Land of the Free." Reading a first-hand account of the experiences of someone who battled on the front lines for racial equality that many younger people take for granted today was tremendously inspiring.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I choose this book for my AP English independent essay. It's a great autobiography nothing was sugar coated or written to appeal to the readers. It's a story that many blacks went or go through and it was great that Gregory wrote his life for display.
Anonymous 5 months ago
One of the best books I've ever red.
MsNikki on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The title stopped me, and the synopsis melted my heart. Truely an example of how a positive attitude is key to surviving all manner of atrocities
CrystalGroves More than 1 year ago
This is a moving and wonderful book.  I'm sad that it's not out on ebook (anymore?) because it's definitely a title that could get you in trouble if you're riding the bus.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book years ago and it is one of hte best books I've ever read. A MUST READ!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book i ever read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lolee808 More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very good. It paints of vivid image of what life was like back in the 60s from the racial slurs to public humiliation and the inhumane treatment of the African American people. This book really shows how different times were back then compared to now. I thought the author portrayed his experience of racial discrimination in a more happier light. He was a comedian and his humorous ways translate smoothly into the book. It made a solemn experience of learning how the African American community was thought of to be lesser into a not so solemn experience yet it it still portrays the same message. One part of the book I really liked was the scene where white police officers were sent in to a black rights movement in a church. Instead of singling them out and turning the people there against them, he made them apart of it and included him in his speech, he was even able to get some laughs out of them. This book, "Nigger" by Dick Gregory is an outstanding book that I would recommend to anyone. It really shows that we are all equal no matter what race you are.
Malu_L More than 1 year ago
This is a great read for people with mature minds and a strong stomach. Dick Gregory explains his childhood with such depth and detail that it is hard to bare. "I took the butcher knife off the wall, the big one with the black handle, and swung at his head." (35). However, it was an extremely enticing way for me to learn more about how people of that race actually lived back then. Sometimes movies over exaggerate, but the way D. Gregory tells about his childhood was a good wake up call for me to be thankful for my life now. This book really showed me how hard work and dedication can pay off no matter where I am from. This book showed me that even though we are thankful for something, it doesn't mean we are perfect. Even though his Momma was very supportive of him, he would get irritated at her too. "Once, just once, I invited Momma to a concert and I got sick and ashamed when I saw her come in wearing that shabby old coat, her swollen ankles running over the edges of those dyed shoes, that dress the rich folks gave her, a little too much lipstick and the cheap perfume." (69). I would recommend this memoir to anyone who is feeling really down because I think it would help them see that there are people that have it worse. I also think this book is good for people 15 years and older, unless you are a very mature younger person, thank in that case it could be a learning experience for you too. This book is definitely one of my new favorites. Altogether I think this is an incredible book and I would recommend it for high school students and up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WyattM More than 1 year ago
Today different races can come together as one and possibly could become best of friends. It is hard to believe that before Martin Luther King Jr's famous speech, "I have a dream," people would be treated like trash. Could you imagine how people would march down protesting on the cruelty that was received? People were so frustrated they would do anything to solve the problem of racism. Sometimes people even risked their lives fighting for what they believe in. People of white race would always be considered first in everything. Whether it was a line to drink water or a seating order on the bus. A person of white race would be the first priority. This autobiography by Dick Gregory really gets across of how anyone can do anything. He grows up in a poor family and is not really expected to do anything. As some people looked up to him, "'Dick Gregory'? 'Yeah, that's right'. 'You don't know me, but my son and I always come to watch you run. He's sitting in the car over there, he can't walk without crutches. I'd be obliged if you'd say hello to him and give him an autograph. It would mean a lot to him'" (95). People looked up to him for some of his accomplishments. It is amazing how he grabs you into the book giving many details of his life. It really captures the importance of racism. I feel of much fortune being born when I was. To be in a place where your dad has run off to another woman and you have no money to spare feeding seven children. A very difficult situation to deal with. I would recommend this book to anyone, as it shows the importance of life, and how anyone can make a difference.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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jodi Breding More than 1 year ago
Mr Gregorys story is corageous, brave, an unimaginable! This book is inspiring and gives you the courage to dream no matter who you are or where you xome from!
KevC More than 1 year ago
Ni****, written by Dick Gregory was my outside reading book for my ninth grade English class. The main reason I chose to read this book was that I thought the book title was both incredible and terrible. I mean, who would ever name a book title with such a discriminatory word? Dick Gregory does. This book shocked me when I read it. I felt lucky that I was not born into such a broken family (his dad ran away with another woman, and the family is on relief with seven children to feed). I also feel fortunate that I was not born in the southern states when the Jim Crow laws were in effect. Compared to my life, Mr. Gregory lived in poverty and misery. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------2nd paragraph------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In the book, I saw a lot of discrimination toward African Americans. The word ni**** was used frequently in this book by whites addressing black Americans. However, Mr. Gregory wasn't depressed and did not feel inferior to the whites. He fought for what he believed in. When he was in high school, he tried to raise his family's status. He ran track everyday and became a celebrity in his school. During and after college, he fought for the dignity of African Americans. He hates the word which he uses as the book title, and wants to change the world. He is a great man. He participated bravely in the Civil Rights movement with demonstrators such as Martin Luther King, Jr., even though it might cause him to lose his job or lead to his death.----------------------- --------------------------------------------3rd paragraph--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I like this book, and I really encourage everyone to read it. Mr. Gregory shows his pride in being an African American. From his story, I learned that we should never think our ethnicity is inferior, and we should try hard to change the prejudiced minds to make a better society. Mr. Gregory worked hard with other Black Americans to change our society, and now, as he says, "whenever you hear the word ni**** again, they are advertising my book."
UNKNOWN1 More than 1 year ago
Inspirational An autobiography by Dick Gregory, is an awesome memoir! I suggest it to anyone who is eager to learn about the racism of the 60's and who has an open mind towards how rough and tough a life can be for the black people back then. Dick Gregory, a boy who wanted to go somewhere in his life, dreamed big and dreamed hard. He was a small town boy of Illinois. His dad left him and his family at a young age. His mom went to work for a white family. So Dick Gregory had to work at the age of ten. He polished people's shoes to raise money and help his family. Dick Gregory was the oldest amongst his brothers and sisters. He worked hard and then started to run. People took notes of his running skills and he soon got a scholarship to Southern Illinois. He was known all over. He made his name remembered. This book is inspirational. It shows that you can make it big, if you set your mind to it. Dick Gregory had a tough childhood, but didn't let that get in his way of pursuing his dreams. He made it from no father, his mother a hard worker, and not always having food to eat. But he just dreamed big. I can relate to this because I know someone who had a childhood similar to his. In this person's childhood, his mom was a drug addict, and his birth father left him when he was only a couple months old. He lived in a ratted up house with small portions to eat. He didn't have any of his brothers or sisters to help him because they were all too independent. He had to sell newspapers on the street because he needed money for food, clothes, cleats for football, and books for school. The person I know and Dick Gregory have similar stories. Growing up in a hard childhood is what I mean. Dick Gregory is now a famous comedian and the person I know is an E9 or CSM for the 25th Infantry Division. That is one of the highest ranks you can be in the Army as an enlisted soldier. So dream big and work hard at it.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is so good, so real, so true telling. Gregory has a way with words and know when to keep it new, real and original. Nigger: a story of a life and world so true telling.