This September, a small exhibit honoring Bill Cosby will go on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The exhibit is titled “Taking Shape,” and focuses on African-American representation on television in the 20th century. To encompass this history, Cosby’s 1964 comedy record I Started Out as a Child, an I Spy comic book, and video clips from the program and clips from The Cosby Show have been added to the exhibit.
As a result of Cosby’s inclusion in the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s “Taking Shape” exhibit, his accusers are lashing out at the Smithsonian Institute for not mentioning the dozens of women who allege the long-time comedian sexually assaulted them. Some say he should not be included in the display at all. The museum has no plans to include the allegations, which has some saying they’re erasing history.
One of Cosby’s accusers, Patricia Leary Steuer, told the New York Times: “If they just speak about the contributions, there will be this enormous presence that is not talked about.”
On Tuesday’s edition of NewsOne Now, Kellie Carter Jackson, scholar of 19th-century African-American history at Hunter College, spoke with Roland Martin about the controversy over Cosby’s inclusion in the exhibit and why Mr. Cosby’s contributions should not be omitted from the historical record.
Jackson told Martin, “If we think about the contributions that Bill Cosby has made, we have to recognize the fact that Heathcliff Huxtable is not Bill Cosby.” She added, “I think we have to acknowledge the fact that in the course of TV history, The Cosby Show has been transformative.”
In directly addressing Cosby’s accusers being unnerved by the exhibit, Jackson said, “If we were to use that standard for Cosby, I think it would only be fair that we would have to use it for every single person who has contributed to this museum.”
She continued it can be difficult “to separate people — the art from the artist.” Jackson went on to question, “How do you separate Miles Davis’s work and not look at the fact that he also was an abuser?”
Jackson took her argument a step further: “How to you look at Martin Luther King and not look at the fact that he’s also had extramarital affairs? How do you look at the life of Michael Jordan and look at his tennis shoe industry and not look at the fact that he’s also heavily invested in for-profit prisons?”
NewsOne Now panelist Dr. Wilmer Leon believes facts should be stated and “you leave the allegations alone.” He added, “In reading the story about some of the consternation that they’re going through with the museum, my bigger question to Dr. Bunch (Lonnie G. Bunch III, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture) has more to do with whose sensibilities are really being considered as they put the exhibits together in these museums.”
Dr. Leon continued, “In many instances, it seems to me as though they’re trying to water down the history to placate White visitors, not violating or disrupting the sensibilities of White visitors, as opposed to telling the African in America and African-American story as it needs to be told.”
Martin questioned how Cosby’s history of being a television pioneer could be ignored, saying, “How do you have an exhibit on Blacks in Hollywood or in television and not include Bill Cosby?”
Shermichael Singleton said, “Museums aren’t places where we just have all of these innuendoes … things that have not been determined yet.” He continued, “If at some point in the future where he (Bill Cosby) is found guilty of these things, I do believe you note them, but until that time, absolutely he should be honored.”
Watch Roland Martin, Kellie Carter Jackson, and the NewsOne Now panel discuss the controversy surrounding Bill Cosby being included in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture exhibit titled “Taking Shape” in the video clip above.
SOUND OFF: Do you believe Bill Cosby should be included in the exhibit while he is in the midst of legal trouble and accused of sexually assaulting dozens of women?
Subscribe to the “NewsOne Now” Audio Podcast on iTunes.