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(2004) Bill Cosby, “The Pound Cake Speech”

On May 17, 2004, the NAACP staged a gala celebration at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Comedian, actor, and philanthropist Bill Cosby was asked to deliver the main address. Cosby unexpectedly used the occasion to deliver a controversial speech that profiled current African American social, economic and cultural deficiencies. His speech ignited a firestorm of protest and debate. It appears below.

Ladies and gentlemen, I really have to ask you to seriously consider what you’ve heard, and now this is the end of the evening so to speak. I heard a prize fight manager say to his fellow who was losing badly, “David, listen to me. It’s not what’s he’s doing to you. It’s what you’re not doing."

Ladies and gentlemen, these people set -- they opened the doors, they gave us the right, and today, ladies and gentlemen, in our cities and public schools we have 50% drop out. In our own neighborhood, we have men in prison. No longer is a person embarrassed because they’re pregnant without a husband. No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father of the unmarried child.

Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic and lower middle economic people are not holding their end in this deal. In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on. In the old days, you couldn’t hooky school because every drawn shade was an eye. And before your mother got off the bus and to the house, she knew exactly where you had gone, who had gone into the house, and where you got on whatever you had one and where you got it from. Parents don’t know that today.

I’m talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was two? Where were you when he was twelve? Where were you when he was eighteen, and how come you don’t know he had a pistol? And where is his father, and why don’t you know where he is? And why doesn’t the father

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