Civil Rights Movement: How comedians helped heal America | USA TODAY

Black comedians helped ease tension during the Civil Rights Movement and their legacy continues for comics amid ongoing racial disparity.

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“Somebody actually asked me recently, ‘Why do Black people laugh so hard? And why do they go to so many comedy shows?’ And I said, ‘We need to laugh the most because we’ve been through the most,'” comedian Guy Torry says. “And we have to laugh to keep from crying.”

Black History Month often recycles tales of adversity faced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. But, among the many untold stories are some of the figures who made them laugh.

Dick Gregory, Jackie “Moms” Mabley, Richard Pryor, Godfrey Cambridge and more established and emerging Black comedians of the ’60s challenged and eased racial tension during the Civil Rights Movement with their tongues. Comedy persists as an accessible resource, combining social commentary and humor, as book bans against literature about American history mount and teaching Black history is challenged by politicians amid divide over critical race theory. It’s one of the forms of storytelling today that lives on thanks to the fight from Civil Rights Era comedians, who risked arrest and lynching to tell their truth.

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