Camille Olivia Cosby was born in 1945, in Washington D.C., the eldest daughter of Guy and Catherine Hanks. Guy Hanks was a graduate of Southern University in Baton Rouge who went on to earn a master's degree at Fisk University in Nashville. Her mother, Catherine, graduated from Howard University in Washington D.C.
After attending parochial schools, Camille Olivia Hanks continued her privileged education at the University of Maryland, where she studied psychology. Although her parents encouraged her to study music at an early age, her interests were inclined towards psychosocial issues related to African Americans. Her academic achievements were momentarily put on hold, however, when she met Bill Cosby on a blind date while in college. The two were wed in 1964 and her attention turned towards helping her husband's budding career as a comedian, and building what would eventually become the Cosby empire, Cosby Enterprises.
The couple had five children together, Erika, Erin, Ennis, Ensa, and Evin. A devastating blow came with the death of their 27-year old only son Ennis who was shot while changing a flat tire alongside a Los Angeles freeway in 1997. This unfortunately followed on the heels of another embarrassing media frenzy when earlier that year, her husband, Bill Cosby, was confronted with a paternity lawsuit from Autumn Jackson, who claimed to be the result of an affair he had years back. It was later proved that he was not the father, although he admitted to having the affair years ago. Camille remained composed, however, during this time when she related to the press a "that-was-then-and-this is-now" type sentiment, stating that they were young and had much more growing to do as a couple at the time the affair occurred.
Although she may be best known for her role as a wife to comedian Bill Cosby and a mother to his children, Dr. Camille has accomplished many things in her academic and professional life. She has earned a Ph.D. in education, owns a production company, has done television and stage work, and has written books and articles.
When Camille Olivia Hanks married Bill Cosby in 1964, she had dropped out of the University of Maryland to accompany her husband while he traveled to different cities at the start-up of his career. In these early years, she decided to help manage the income after they had a bad experience with a manager who mishandled their money. She later became the chief executive of the company, Cosby Enterprises, which eventually included television commercials, books, comedies, movies, and the television shows, The Cosby Show and A Different World. When asked why she chose to become involved in her husband's business affairs, she has remarked in interviews that it was a natural decision for a couple that considers itself partners in both marriage and business.
When Dr. Cosby later returned to school, she studied organizational development, a program that is part of the education department which studies existing structures and how they can affect change. She realized how profoundly television can impact lives and ideas, especially those of young people. In 1992 she produced a documentary titled, No Dreams Deferred, based on the true story of a husband and wife catering team who ran an after-school program for five youths in Atlanta, Georgia. It's an inspiring story of a couple investing in their community through helping to improve and give opportunity to young people who see their lives as limited in what they can do.
In response to what she saw as negative portrayals of blacks on television and influenced by her own dissertation research while at the University of Massachusetts, she wrote a book titled, Television's Imageable Influences: The Self Perception of Young African-Americans, published in 1994. In this book, she asks young adults to consider the way in which blacks are portrayed on television and to learn some consciously critical skills while watching television. Reflecting on her own experience, she has said, "As a mother, I am very aware of what children watch and how they are influenced by television, movies, newspapers, and art."
Dr. Cosby has also co-produced a Broadway play based on the book, Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters First 100 Years which received critical acclaim. She is quoted as saying in Jet, in 1995 "What I hope people will get out of this play is that people will feel hopeful instead of hopeless, as we are often made to feel from different forms of media propaganda."
Social and Economic Impact
The most notable aspect of Camille Cosby's life is her dedication to the recycling of opportunity and education that she and her family have benefited from. The projects she chooses all have one commonality: they financially, socially, or spiritually give back to the African American community. Influenced by her own parents attending black colleges, and her own research which indicated a lack of financial support from alumni to those institutions, Camille and husband, Bill Cosby, have made it a priority to lend financial support to black educational institutions. One of the largest donations to a college occurred in 1993 when she and her husband donated $23 million to Spelman College. These funds were used to build the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Academic Center, with three chairs in the fine arts, humanities, and social science fields. Other African American colleges/institutions the Cosby's have donated money to include Fisk University, Meharry and Bethune-Cookman Colleges and Harlem Hospital. Non-institutional support reported by Dr. Cosby includes the sponsorship of 30 students to various colleges and universities.
Dr. Cosby has also written articles supporting her causes. In the December 1997 issue of Essence, calledShopping for a Better World, she writes about how African American dollars are better spent at those businesses which reciprocate support to the black community. She says African American dollars should not go to support banks, schools, and other businesses which do not give back to the community and claims that "people who don't think about their spending habits can end up promoting a culture of disempowerment, helplessness, and hopelessness." Her obligation to give is steadfast but she prefers to stay out of the public light and only rarely does interviews. Ironically, it is with social causes that she chooses to attract media attention. In a New York Times article by Lena Williams, "Private Woman Pursues a Public Cause," she explains her mission by stating, "I feel I have an obligation because I have the resources and access to people in the entertainment industry to do some things."
Chronology: Camille Cosby
1964: Married William Henry Cosby.
1980: Graduated from Amhurst College with an MA.
1987: Spoke at Howard University commencement.
1989: Awarded an Honorary doctorate, Spelman College.
1992: Awarded National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Candace Award.
1992: Earned Ph.D. in education at University of Massachusetts.
1994: Published Television's Imageable Influences:The Self Perception of Young African-Americans.
1995: Co-produced Broadway Play, Having Our Say.
1997: Named as Essence Awards Honoree, along with husband Bill Cosby.
Despite her avoidance of the public limelight, Camille Cosby has been presented with several distinctions by the media. In 1996, she was named one of the "15 most beautiful Black women," by Ebony magazine, sharing the distinction with Oprah Winfrey, Vanessa Williams, and Janet Jackson. The Ladies Home Journal also acknowledged her achievements by naming her one of the "most fascinating women of 1997," along with Princess Diana, Ellen DeGeneres, and Mother Theresa. Finally, Camille Cosby was named as one of the winners of the Tenth anniversary Essence Awards in 1997. The award, designed to honor those whose "lives and work are a testament to enduring courage, steadfast love, selfless community commitment and a triumphant spirit," was shared with her husband, Bill Cosby.
Sources of Information
Contact at: Camille Cosby
34-12 36th St.
Astoria, NY 11106
"Camille Cosby's Book Explores Negative Images of Blacks in Media." Jet, February 1995.
"Camille Cosby Stands by Husband, Bill, Who Admitted He Had a Rendezvous Years Ago" Jet, February 1997.
"Catalyst Camille," American Visions, December-Janaury 1994.
Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Culture Vol. 5: African-American Culture. Gale Research: Detroit 1996.
"The Fifteen Most Beautiful Black Women" Ebony, October 1996.
"The Most Fascinating Women of 1997" Ladies Home Journal, January 1988.
Notable Black American Women, Detroit: Gale Research, 1992.
"Shopping For a Better World" Essence, December 1997.
Tenth Anniversary Essence Awards. 1997 May 1997.
Who's Who Among African Americans. 1998-1999.
More From encyclopedia.com
Bill Cosby , Bill Cosby 1937– Comedian, actor, author At a Glance… Confronted With Tragedy Selected writings Sources Bill Cosby, one of television’s funniest and… Jawanza Kunjufu , Kunjufu, Jawanza 1953– Author, educator, publisher Jawanza Kunjufu has dedicated his career to addressing the ills afflicting black culture in the Un… Johnnetta B. Cole , Cole, Johnnetta B. 1936– Educator, anthropologist, writer Johnnetta Cole has been many things in her long career: an anthropologist, a teacher, a col… Zora Neale Hurston , Hurston, Zora Neale 1891–1960 Writer, anthropologist, folklorist Zora Neale Hurston managed to avoid many of the restraints placed upon women, blacks… African American Studies , AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES, a field of academic and intellectual endeavors—variously labeled Africana Studies, Afro-American Studies, Black Studies, Pa… Etta Moten Barnett , Barnett, Etta Moten African American singer and actress Etta Moten Barnett (1901–2004) was perhaps best known for her signature performance in the ti…
About this article
Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article
You Might Also Like