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African American Museum to include accusations against Bill Cosby alongside items in planned exhibit

Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, said the museum’s display of Bill Cosby items will include information about the recent accusations against him. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s founding director Lonnie Bunch issued a statement Thursday that reverses the museum’s earlier claim that it would display items related to comedian Cosby without explaining his legal problems.

Bunch described the museum’s “interpretation” of Cosby as “a work in progress” 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,” Bunch said. “This is not an exhibition that ‘honors or celebrates’ Bill Cosby but one that acknowledges his role, among many others, in American entertainment.”

[Smithsonian defends inclusion of two Cosby items in new African American museum]

Bunch’s comments come days after the New York Times first reported the museum, which opens on the Mall Sept. 24, will include two Cosby items in its “Taking the Stage” exhibit: a comic book from the early Cosby vehicle, “I, Spy” in an area focused on “TV pioneers” and the cover of Cosby’s 1964 album, “I Started Out as a Child,” in a display about groundbreaking comedians.  The items, purchased on eBay in 2013, are among 150 to be included in the entertainment exhibition.

Bunch said the museum “respectfully disagrees” with calls for the Smithsonian museum to eliminate all mention of Cosby.

“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,” said Bunch.

Read Bunch’s full statement here.