After controversy over Bill Cosby’s memorabilia being included in a new African-American history museum, the Smithsonian says it will recognize his sexual assault allegations.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture will open Sept. 24 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and will include two items related to Cosby’s career in stand-up comedy and television. A comedy album cover and a comic book from his show “I Spy” will be on display at the museum, according to the Associated Press.
Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, said in a statement the display will account for Cosby’s allegations, but he didn’t specify how it would be done.
“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,” Bunch said. “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.”
“If they just speak about the contributions, there will be this enormous presence that is not talked about,” said Cosby accuser Patricia Leary Steuer to The New York Times.
Criticism was also stirred when the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art featured Cosby’s artwork in an exhibit called “Conversations” in November 2015. Funds for the exhibit, which amounted to $716,000, were gifted by Cosby and his wife, Camille. Last year, the museum’s director said she would not have displayed the art if she had known about the allegations.
Earlier this week, a Smithsonian spokeswoman, Linda St. Thomas, told The AP the items that will be included in the display were purchased from eBay. The Root reports the 1964 comedy album “I Started Out as a Child” will be on display as well as clips from “I Spy” and “The Cosby Show.”
Bunch’s full statement on the decision is below.
There have been many misconceptions and mistaken notions about the presence of Bill Cosby within the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s exhibition, “Taking the Stage,” that explores the history of African American participation in film, theatre and television. 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 will help 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.