clock menu more-arrow no yes

The New African-American history museum will still honor Bill Cosby. It will also mention the allegations against him.

After widespread outrage that the new Smithsonian Museum of African-American History would include items honoring Bill Cosby, without mentioning the sexual assault allegations against him, the Smithsonian has announced it will reverse course.

The museum plans to pay homage to the TV entertainer as one of several featured artists in an exhibit called "Taking the Stage." But initially, the museum  — which is set to open in September — intended to omit any mention of the allegations against Cosby made by as many as two dozen women.

"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 G. Bunch III, director of the museum, said in a statement.

Several of the women spoke out against the initial curatorial decision, saying that Cosby's accomplishments should be diminished in light of unsavory sexual behavior.

"If they just speak about the contributions, there will be this enormous presence that is not talked about," Patricia Leary Steuer, one of Cosby’s accusers, told the New York Times.

In defense of his inclusion, Smithsonian curators initially said Cosby’s footprint on the museum would be small, including a few objects recognizing his work on the shows I Spy and The Cosby Show, and should stand alone.

They felt his contributions to black entertainment were too significant to overlook.

"This is not an exhibition that ‘honors or celebrates’ Bill Cosby but one that acknowledges his role, among many others, in American entertainment," Bunch said in the statement.

But on Thursday, Bunch said curators had changed their minds, after several days of intense criticism in news reports and on social media. He did not yet say how the allegations will be represented.

This is not the first time the Smithsonian has waded into Cosby-related controversy. Just last year, the Smithsonian Museum of African Art faced a torrent of criticism when it exhibited several artworks on loan from Cosby’s substantial personal collection. The museum was forced to post a sign telling visitors that the exhibition did not amount to an endorsement of the behavior for which Cosby is
accused.

Go deeper:

  • How does one museum capture the complex history of African Americans in America? The New York Times chronicled the fraught curatorial decisions being made ahead of the newest Smithsonian to open this September.
  • Here are nine questions about Bill Cosby you might be too embarrassed to ask.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.