Sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby will be included in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens this September in Washington, D.C.
Last month, the New York Times reported on the plans for the new museum, noting that while Cosby would be included in an exhibit on black entertainers and artists, there were no mentions of the fact that more than 50 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct or that the comedian is currently embroiled in a number of lawsuits stemming from decades of these allegations.
But on Thursday, the museum’s founding director Lonnie Bunch released a statement alerting the public to a change of plans:
This is not an exhibition that ‘honors or celebrates’ Bill Cosby but one that acknowledges his role, among many others, in American entertainment. Some people feel that the Smithsonian should eliminate all mention of Bill Cosby as a result of recent revelations. We understand but respectfully disagree. For too long, aspects of African American history have been erased and undervalued, creating an incomplete interpretation of the American past. This museum seeks to tell, in the words of the eminent historian John Hope Franklin, ‘the unvarnished truth’ that willhelp our visitors to remember and better understand what has often been erased and forgotten. Like all of history, our interpretation of Bill Cosby is a work in progress, something that will continue to evolve as new evidence and insights come to the fore. Visitors will leave the exhibition knowing more about Mr. Cosby’s impact on American entertainment, while recognizing that his legacy has been severely damaged by the recent accusations.
Perhaps Bunch’s decision was influenced by the backlash to a recent art exhibit at Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art funded largely with a $716,000 gift from Bill and Camille Cosby. The exhibition featured quotations about Cosby’s work, portraits of Cosby and his family, and art by Cosby’s daughter. Cosby also loaned art from his personal collection for the exhibit.
Bill Cosby Countersued 7 Of His Accusers. What Happens Next?On Monday, Bill Cosby countersued seven of more than 50 the women who have accused him of sexual assault. Their…thinkprogress.orgJohnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and longtime friend of the Cosby family, defended keeping the exhibit on view because it was “not about the life and career of Bill Cosby” but rather “is about the interplay of artistic creativity in remarkable works of African and African-American art and what visitors can learn from the stories this art tells.”
Cole also said that she was “unaware” of the allegations against Cosby and would not have gone ahead with the exhibit if she’d known about them. But, while dozens of women went public with their accusations after comedian Hannibal Buress’ stand-up set in October 2014 reignited interest in Cosby’s alleged sexual crimes, thirteen women came forward with their allegations against Cosby in 2005, including Andrea Constand, who filed a civil suit charging Cosby with battery and assault. Barbara Bowman, one of the Jane Doe witnesses in Constand’s case, detailed her allegations to Philadelphia magazine in 2006; later that year, she gave People magazine accounts of multiple assaults by Cosby.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture will include one of Cosby’s comedy records, “I Started Out as a Child,” from 1964, video clips from The Cosby Show and I Spy, and a comic book from his show I Spy. The text alongside The Cosby Show clips describes the series “one of the best-loved American TV shows.”