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Beverly Johnson changes things on Cosby

Beverly Johnson changes things on Cosby

Beverly Johnson is a game changer.

Before Johnson hit the cover of American Vogue in 1974, black women weren’t gracing the covers of fashion magazines. In fact, if the magazine wasn’t Ebony, Jet, or Essence, seeing a woman of color in any of its pages was a rare occurrence.

But by 1975, thanks to women like Beverly Johnson, Iman, Pat Cleveland and others who were too pretty and polished for designers to ignore, fashion magazines decided to showcase them. While it’s not an everyday occurrence, you can still occasionally see a smiling black woman on a magazine cover.

And just in case you’re wondering, Beyonce’, Rihanna, Academy-Award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o and First Lady Michelle Obama don’t count in that assessment. I’m talking about women for whom modeling is a profession, not a hobby.

I guess that by now you’re wondering why you’re getting this history lesson on black models. Well, I’m bringing this up because the story of Bill Cosby and his alleged drug-induced assignations with women got a new chapter this week.

Beverly Johnson changes things

Because it was written by Beverly Johnson, the first black woman to grace the cover of a fashion magazine, it’s making even Cosby’s most ardent defenders wonder a little bit.

Cosby offered her a cappuccino. At first, she didn’t want to drink it, but after some prodding from him, Johnson took the drink. Because she had dabbled in the drug culture connected to the fashion industry, she knew she had been drugged.

In a piece written for Vanity Fair Magazine, Johnson tells the story of a visit to Cosby’s home that, to say the least, ended badly.

She was coming out of a bad marriage, looking for work as an actress, and connected with Cosby, who occasionally used models on “The Cosby Show” as visitors to the office of his character, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable.

Cosby offered her a cappuccino. At first, she didn’t want to drink it, but after some prodding from him, Johnson took the drink. Because she had dabbled in the drug culture connected to the fashion industry, she knew she had been drugged.

Once she figured it out, let’s just say that Johnson called Cosby a word that I’m pretty sure he’s not used to hearing.

Let’s be clear. Cosby has never been charged with a crime or arrested in connection with the sexual assault allegations leveled against him. But as I read Johnson’s words, two things struck me.

Beverly Johnson gives striking description

One: It takes a special brand of arrogance to drug a woman in the house you share with your wife and give her the phone number to that house on top of it. It’s a move that would get your playa card revoked because it can lead to things like your wife answering the phone when the woman calls, which is what happened when Johnson called Cosby’s house with the thought of confronting him.

And I’m not even going to get into the disrespect it shows your wife. Camille Hanks Cosby is a much better woman than I am by leaps and bounds because with over 20 accusations, a settled lawsuit, and more lawsuits to come, I’d be exploring my options.

The other thing that struck me was the pain in Johnson’s words.

Camille Hanks Cosby is a much better woman than I am by leaps and bounds because with over 20 accusations, a settled lawsuit, and more lawsuits to come, I’d be exploring my options.

I could tell that Johnson didn’t want to write this essay. It was a story she wished she didn’t have to share. Even though a friend of hers, fellow model Janice Dickinson, had told a similar story, she wanted to remain quiet out of the loyalty she feels for black men.

#BlackLivesMatter to her. The plight of black men kept her silent. The fear of being branded an “angry black woman” kept her silent.

In the end, however, she decided that #BlackLivesMatter has to include black women in order to work.

And those women needed her voice more than Cosby needed her continued silence.

“I reached the conclusion that the current attack on African American men has absolutely nothing to do at all with Bill Cosby,” Johnson said. “He brought this on himself when he decided he had the right to have his way with who knows how many women over the last four decades. If anything, Cosby is distinguished from the majority of black men in this country because he could depend on the powers that be for support and protection.”

Shortly after Beverly Johnson’s essay hit the Internet, people who used the words gold digger, liar, and whore, and asked the question “Why are they coming forward now?” about other accusers softened their stances a bit. Even Spelman College, the HBCU where the Cosbys have an endowed chair, has taken a step back.

I guess that my question is why did it take you so long? What makes Johnson’s word more valid than Dickinson’s or any of the other women who have been sharing their stories for months, if not years?

Why does Beverly Johnson change the game?

The only thing that I can up with in terms of a difference is Johnson’s status. When you occupy the space that Johnson does as a black woman with her own success, it’s a lot harder to say “She’s just trying to make herself famous off of this man’s back.”

Johnson is an Icon.

You tend to put more stock in Icons.

Look at how long Bill Cosby’s iconic status protected him… sj favicon 3

Photo: From his chair on stage in Eisenhower Auditorium, comedian Bill Cosby gestures to the audience, winning smiles and extended laughter from the packed venue at the first of two performances on Friday, Jan. 23. His routine included loads of marriage advice, and a variation of his comic standard about a dentist’s office visit. Click here to see the original photo (Penn State/ Flickr Creative Commons).


denise clay 2Denise Clay is a veteran journalist, a former adjunct professor, and an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists. She is a regular contributor to Solomonjones.com. Click here to learn more about Denise.

Denise Clay
Written by Denise Clay