Dick Gregory wanted people to think of him as a humorist rather then a comic. A comic tells jokes. A humorist has something to say, in a funny way.

We might make a similar distinction between conspiracy theorist and historian, except in this case the subject matter is not funny. I’m perfectly happy with the literal meaning of conspiracy theorist. An untested theory is an hypothesis. A conspiracy theory is an hypothesis about two or more people. That’s exactly what historians do: test hypotheses against evidence to see which stories and explanations appear most reasonable.

That’s not how people who deploy the label conspiracy theorist use those words. We all know what a load the phrase carries. They divide the world into those who trust authorities, and those who do not. Dick Gregory did not. If you question authorities, you are a conspiracy theorist. If you do not question authorities, you are a good citizen.

Enjoy some good quotations from Mr. Gregory’s career:

I wouldn’t mind paying taxes – if I knew they were going to a friendly country.

In America, with all of its evils and faults, you can still reach through the forest and see the sun. But we don’t know yet whether that sun is rising or setting for our country.

There’s a God force inside of you that gives you a will to live.

There is a limit on how much information you can keep bottled up.

We thought I was going to be a great athlete, and we were wrong, and I thought I was going to be a great entertainer, and that wasn’t it either. I’m going to be an American Citizen. First class.

My mother was the sweetest lady who ever lived on this planet, but if you tried to tell her that Jesus wasn’t a Christian, she would stomp you to death.

When I lost my rifle, the Army charged me 85 dollars. That is why in the Navy the Captain goes down with the ship.

I buy about $1,500 worth of papers every month. Not that I trust them. I’m looking for the crack in the fabric.

My belief is, you know, certain things have to be explained that’s never been explained.

To me, seeing a really great comedian is a bit like watching a musician or a poet.

In 1961, Gregory opened his performance from the stage, with a lot of white people in the audience:

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 twenty 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.”

Then these three white boys came up to me and said, “Boy, we’re giving you fair warning. Anything you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you.” So I put down my knife and fork, I picked up that chicken and I kissed it. Then I said, “Line up, boys!”

I wish he had said, “I picked up that chicken and kissed its behind,” but that would have been crude and more than impolite for the time and place. Besides, you can imagine him saying it easily enough.

To return to conspiracy theories: it’s a good thing well-known people like Ed Asner, Pete Carroll, and Dick Gregory had courage to speak their minds about 9/11. I’m encouraged and grateful theologians like David Ray Griffin and James Douglass spent considerable energy to discern the truth about 9/11 and JFK. These heroes are not conspiracy theorists. They are simply truth seekers.

I’ll tell you one more thing, something you may have noticed on your own a long time ago. Truth seekers do not deploy labels to dismiss people who disagree with them.

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