At a Washington eatery that sits at the heart of the black culture and history it celebrates, the entertainers fall from grace poses painful questions
People stopped, stared and posed for photos. A colourful mural on the side of Bens Chili Bowl eatery, a lynchpin of African American life in Washington, included Barack and Michelle Obama, Muhammad Ali, Prince and Harriet Tubman. It included performer Taraji P Henson and rapper Wale. But one prominent local figure was missing.
Is this where Bill Cosby used to be? asked Vivian Staine, 30, a nurse and studio proprietor, as she beheld the artwork for the first time. Its various kinds of shocking to ensure Bill Cosby is down after hes been here so long.
The entertainers fall from grace has posed difficult questions for many in the black community and for Bens Chili Bowl in particular. Cosby has been a regular customer since his navy days in the 1950 s. He befriended its owners, Ben Ali, an immigrant from Trinidad who died in 2009, and his wife Virginia, who now operates the restaurant with their three sons. A historical information sign outside nations: Thanks in part to the patronage of entertainer Bill Cosby, Bens has become a national landmark.
It was no surprise that when artist Aniekan Udofia painted a mural on the restaurants exterior wall in 2012, it featured Cosby along with Obama , local radio DJ Donnie Simpson and godfather of go-go Chuck Brown. But then came allegations that Cosby sexually assaulted dozens of women and court documents showing that he admitted intending to medication females he wanted to have sex with.
Last Saturday, in Pennsylvania, a judge in the sexual assault trial of 79-year-old Cosby declared a mistrial after jurors reported a hopeless deadlock after six days of deliberation. On Wednesday, in a ceremony featuring comedian Dave Chappelle and others, Udofia unveiled a new mural spreading to 16 luminaries but minus Cosby.
Virginia Ali, 83, expressed the view that the restaurant operated an online poll to ask the public who should be included: Barack Obama came first, Michelle Obama was second and Cosby did not place in the top 16.
Referring to the allegations against him, she said: Thats not the man I knew. Its one of those he said, she said things and theres no phase get into it because I wasnt there. I feel badly for everyone involved.
Cosbys face is still visible in two photo montages inside the restaurant, which is famous for its signature half-smoke a sausage with mustard, chopped onions and homemade chili on a hotdog bun. Ali said: Everybodys welcome to Bens. When you walk in the door, what youve done is left outside and we treat you as family, as a guest. We treat everyone with the same dignity and warmth. We dont judge people here.
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