When Richard Pryor arrived in DC, he hugged me and said, "Thank you for honoring me, I look forward to meeting President Reagan. When everyone else was dumping on me because of my problems, you guys reached out. I am grateful." The next day Pryor strolled out to the atrium at the Department of Agriculture. Over 10,000 people were in attendance. An Official from the White House gave me a wink. I smiled back.
The next day, the Washington Post style section ran a headline reading, "The Jester Weeps." At the White House reception, President Reagan gave me a bear hug and thanked me for making it happen. He then hugged Richard Pryor, and confided that he and Nancy had been praying for him. Reagan paused for a moment, then leaned forward and said, "Thank you for remembering the legacy of Dr. King, because he showed us all how to get along as God's children." Pryor and Reagan then exchanged anecdotes first about Hollywood, and then about Dr. King. Reagan talked about how he cried when he heard that Dr. King had been assassinated. Pryor's eyes swelled with tears. President Reagan, Senator Thurmond and Richard Pryor stood there for quite some time, leaning forward in conversation, heads rolling in laughter.
I'll never forget that scene. Pryor was not a traditional spokesperson for the black community. Senator Thurmond and President Reagan were pretty uncommon in their own right. Together they were a testament to people with different backgrounds and diverse perspectives coming together to haul us all along as a community.
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