African American Presidential Politics and the Black Radical Imagination

By E. James West | Black Perspectives

In March 1969, at a grade school in Washington, D.C., an eclectic audience gathered to celebrate the inauguration of comedian Dick Gregory as the nation’s “president-in-exile.” The event was originally planned for American University, before the college’s president shut down proceedings, prompting a “hit and run occupation of campus buildings.” Gregory was unperturbed, completing his swearing-in ceremony with customary flair, before declaring to his raucous band of supporters that “whenever the occupant of the White House fails to respond to the just demands of human need, the independent army will bring their concerns to the Black House to their President-in-Exile.” According to Black weekly magazine JetGregory informed spectators that his shadow presidency would be primarily concerned with ending the war in Vietnam and tackling issues such as bad housing, education, and ongoing discrimination.

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