Philadelphia Mourns Tainted Image of Its Native Son Bill Cosby

© Mark Makela for The New York Times A mural on Broad Street in North Philadelphia featuring Bill Cosby between Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
© Mark Makela for The New York Times A mural on Broad Street in North Philadelphia featuring Bill Cosby between Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

It was seven weeks ago that a stand-up comic named Hannibal Buress ripped into a local icon at the Trocadero Theater here, calling Bill Cosby a “rapist” and setting in motion a cascade of ugly allegations that threaten to undermine an image Mr. Cosby built over decades.

Nowhere has the precipitous fall of Mr. Cosby been more acutely felt than in Philadelphia, where he was a cherished native son who shot to fame spinning humorous tales of a childhood in public housing. He became a philanthropist and cheerleader for his hometown, not least through the Temple sweatshirts that he wore onstage and on “The Cosby Show” and that put his alma mater on the map.

As recently as Veterans Day, Mayor Michael A. Nutter acknowledged Mr. Cosby at a ceremony on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, saying, “Thank you, sir, for everything.”

But as more than 15 women have publicly accused the comedian of assault, often after drugging them, his hometown has plunged into a re-examination of his life and ties to the city. It is a process painful and sad, as residents try to square the image of Mr. Cosby as a beloved father figure, extolling on TV and in books the value of education and intact African-American families, with allegations of his sexual violence toward women going back five decades.

Last Monday, Mr. Cosby resigned from the board of Temple University amid a pressure campaign by students and alumni.

He was the face of the school nationwide, speaking at graduations, and as recently as at the freshman convocation in August.

On campus, students were largely relieved that he had stepped down. “A lot of people don’t want him here,” said Adaisah Johnson, 19, a sophomore from Freehold, N.J.

Another sophomore, Eva Arce, 20, from North Philadelphia like Mr. Cosby, recalled him as “a cool dad figure” from her childhood, and regretted his fall from that pedestal.

“It’s kind of sad knowing one of the major Philly icons is not going to be up there anymore and will be looked at in a bad light,” she said.

Cindy Bass, a City Council member who grew up in North Philadelphia and attended Temple, credited Mr. Cosby with bringing national recognition to the 37,000-student university, a haven for poor and working-class students.

“But it is important to note that I know Cliff Huxtable, the family man who was welcomed into my living room every Thursday night. I don’t know Bill Cosby,” she said in a written statement.

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Source: The New York Times | TRIP GABRIEL


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