Cosby's legacy

In the early 1960s, I was fascinated as a young boy by the Civil Rights movement.  I watched and read about these issues in Life magazine.  My friends and I also loved Bill Cosby's comedy routines on his award-winning comedy records.  We loved his tales of his adventures with his friends as children growing up in the early 1950s. 

My opinion of the Civil Rights movement in general and Bill Cosby in particular changed dramatically in the summer of 1968, when CBS aired a seven-part series called Of Black America.  Cosby was the narrator in three of the seven episodes, and the one I remember vividly was "Black History: Lost, Stolen, or Strayed."  In this episode, Cosby excoriated blacks who had succeeded by emulating what successful people in modern civilizations do and instead encouraged them to embrace vibrant black culture.

Cosby also ripped Hollywood for its depiction of blacks over thirty-five years earlier.  He talked openly about blacks being depicted as lazy, stupid, chicken-stealing "coons" in the early 1930s.  He made no mention whatsoever of what had been happening more recently in Hollywood, with trick-shooting black gunslinger Wade Randall (Sammy Davis, Jr.) on The Rifleman in 1962,  black radio operator Sgt. Kinchloe (Ivan Dixon) on Hogan's Heroes in 1965, his own starring role in I Spy in 1965, Greg Morris as electronics expert Barney in the 1966 hit series Mission: Impossible, and scores of other meaty roles played by black actors and actresses by 1968, when CBS shot its documentary.  

To this 11-year-old viewer, the most jarring scene in the documentary was the nine-minute segment where pre-kindergarten-age kids are indoctrinated into the Black Power movement by an earnest teacher.  He's teaching the kids to refuse being "American Negroes" and instead identify with Africa first.

After this segment, Cosby comes on and says, "Well, that's kind of like brainwashing – or is it?  Can you blame us for overcompensating?"

Yes, Mr. Cosby, I can.  You were a role model for all Americans in 1967, then you endorsed this "Black Power" garbage in the summer of 1968.  By October of that year, we had the protests at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, which many historians view as the point where the focus of the Civil Rights movement shifted from inclusion and freedom to black entitlement, and celebrating the "vibrancy" of savage criminality combined with an absence of critical thinking.

Cosby two decades later had shifted back to the wholesome, insightful, funny guy he was in my pre-1968 youth as "America's Dad" in his successful 1980s sitcom. 

However, recent revelations about his behavior during his entire adult life have showed that he represents a much more damning historic stereotype of black men than the stupid, lazy coward: the sex-obsessed buck around which no woman is safe from being raped.

Good job.

John Ross is the author of Unintended Consequences, the bestselling novel about the culture of freedom versus the culture of state control.