For Many Philadelphia Residents, Bill Cosby Is Still Their 'Hometown Boy' As Bill Cosby faces a trial for aggravated indecent assault, his relationship with Philadelphia is also on the line. Cosby grew up in Philadelphia and has maintained close ties to the city.

For Many Philadelphia Residents, Bill Cosby Is Still Their 'Hometown Boy'

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When Bill Cosby's trial begins early next month, people in Philadelphia will be watching closely. Cosby grew up in Philly. He maintains deep ties to the city. Now he's on trial for aggravated indecent assault, and his relationship with the city is on the line, too, as Annette John-Hall of member station WHYY reports.

ANNETTE JOHN-HALL, BYLINE: Bill Cosby spent most of his childhood in the Richard Allen homes.


BILL COSBY: We lived in the projects - two-bedroom apartment in the projects with beautiful linoleum floors...


COSBY: ...A two-bedroom apartment with a wall so thin that you could hear a fly in the other room crawling on it.

JOHN-HALL: The Richard Allen homes don't look like what you'd imagine. They're like suburban townhomes. Cosby's house has been torn down, but to the neighbors who remain, his influence and legacy loom large.

BILLY BROWN: Me growing up down here - his inspiration was that you can - you don't have to do negative things grow, you know, and become successful, you know?

JOHN-HALL: Billy Brown and others were proud to claim Cosby as one of their own, but the allegations against him are disturbing to many.

MARY JEFFERSON: I took him to be a father figure, and when I heard that, I called him a dirty bastard.

JOHN-HALL: Mary Jefferson lived in the Richard Allen homes for decades. She was a big fan of "The Cosby Show" in the '80s, but she can't ignore the claims women have made against him.

JEFFERSON: There's two sides to every story, but if it was my daughter and she came to me, I'm going to have to believe her. I'm going to have to believe her.

JOHN-HALL: Cosby's come a long way from the Richard Allen homes, but he's always been a cheerleader for the city he grew up in. He repped Philly and even worked his favorite snack into "The Cosby Show."


COSBY: (As Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable) Now, here we have a giant hoagie. It's full of preservatives and additives and you may not live as long. Let's try it. OK.

WILSON GOODE: He was a hometown boy who grew up here and made good.

JOHN-HALL: Wilson Goode became Philly's first black mayor in the mid-'80s when "The Cosby Show" lived on top of the ratings. Goode and Cosby are the same age.

GOODE: I grew up in the segregated South where African-Americans were denied basic and fundamental rights. The likelihood of seeing a black man on television was as remote as seeing a black man in the White House.

JOHN-HALL: Cosby gave lots of money to causes in Philadelphia and gave his time as well.

BILAL QAYYUM: No other entertainer came and walked the streets with us.

JOHN-HALL: Philadelphia community activist Bilal Qayyum says it's not fair that the public already sees Cosby as guilty.

QAYYUM: America has basically convicted him before he has his trial. I mean, they stripped him of everything - I mean, all of his money that he donated to black colleges and all that great stuff he's done.

JOHN-HALL: As Cosby heads to trial June 5, many Philadelphians will be watching and wrestling with a legacy that has already been severely tarnished. For NPR News, I'm Annette John-Hall in Philadelphia.


Annette John-Hall is the host of Cosby Unraveled, a new podcast from WHYY.

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