As the National Museum of African-American History and Culture prepares to open later this year, controversy has already marred the highly anticipated addition to the National Mall. The question of whether Bill Cosby’s exhibit should include any mention of the numerous allegations of rape currently leveled against him was hotly contested and the museum has made its decision:
After days of questioning, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens in Washington in September, said on Thursday that it would add a reference to accusations of sexual assault made against Bill Cosby in an exhibition that recognizes pioneering work in comedy and television.
While some people wanted the exhibit to ignore the lawsuits, others wanted the exhibit completely stricken. The tricky part is that Cosby has not been convicted of a crime (yet) – but also that he’s had an enormous impact in his field. Even if (when) he’s convicted, does that really negate his pervasive influence in the entertainment industry? More importantly, as Lonnie Brunch, Founding Director of the museum points out, too much of black history has been disappeared and censoring Cosby would only add to that unfortunate trend.
On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that Cosby is a sleaze and not mentioning that would be a true disservice to his unbelievable number of victims and deprive the public of the full context of who he was.
Here’s the museum’s statement in full:
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.
-Lonnie Bunch, Founding Director Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Featured image courtesy of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture