Dick Gregory is courting a new generation.
The comedian and activist who ran for president as a write-in candidate in 1968, fought for civil rights alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and traveled to Iran to fast for the release of American hostages more than three decades ago is bringing his political and social satire to St. Petersburg this week.
His appearance Saturday is part of the first phase of a nationwide recruiting tour for the National Congress of Black Women, a nonprofit organization that works for the educational, political, economic and cultural development of African-American women and their families.
At 78, Gregory still makes about 240 appearances a year.
"I have so much fun doing this,'' he said during a telephone interview.
"I've been in show business almost 55 years, and I've never toured for a women's organization. A woman's tour is altogether different. You don't have all the infighting about who is going to do this or who is going to do that. I'm surprised by all the men that are showing up, and then the young people."
E. Faye Williams, a lawyer and chair of the National Congress of Black Women, hopes the tour will attract more women to the organization. In Florida, which has the most chapters in the country, the tour will include Orlando, Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Lakeland.
"We're hoping to start a chapter in St. Petersburg," she said.
State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, is sponsoring the local stop.
The Celebrating Truth Tour, as the Gregory event is being called, gets its name from Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist and women's rights advocate whose bust the National Congress of Black Women worked for a dozen years to get installed in the nation's Capitol.
Gregory, an avid newspaper reader and author of 13 books, has long been on his own quest for the truth.
"I read the paper looking for the crack in the fabric. I want to know where does wind go when it stops blowing,'' he said.
"I wanted to know why 13 is an unlucky number only in America." The answer, he declared, is "because the 13th Amendment freed slaves."
Gregory also has questions about the 9/11 attack on New York City and the official version of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. He believes that the CIA has plants among New York Times reporters.
Why should that be improbable? After all, he said, "The mob has been infiltrated by the CIA and the FBI."
He is a staunch defender of President Barack Obama.
"Never before has an incoming president inherited such baggage," Gregory said. "When he became president, America's heart had stopped beating."
Gregory, who was born in St. Louis, got his break in 1961, when Hugh Hefner got him booked at Chicago's Playboy Club.
Back then, he said, "Black entertainers were only allowed to sing and dance, not to stand 'flat-footed,' without shuffling, without rolling their eyes, before white audiences."
Hefner's move paved the way for other African-American comedians such as Bill Cosby to do stand-up comedy for white audiences, Gregory said.
A vegetarian, the father of 10 and grandfather of 12 has fasted more than 150 times for various causes. He's planning another to coincide with the Sept. 21 execution of one of three white men convicted of dragging a 49-year-old black man, James Byrd Jr., to his death from the back of a pickup truck in 1998.
He hopes to join a group in a 24-hour fast outside the prison before the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer.
"Any kind of killing is wrong,'' he said. "If the state can kill people, how come I can't?''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.