“ In August, 1968, the country was still reeling from the assassination of Martin Luther King four months earlier, and the race riots that followed on its heels. Nightly news showed burning cities, white flight, radicals and reactionaries snarling at each other across the cultural divide.
“A brand new children’s show out of Pittsburgh, which had gone national the previous year, took a different approach. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood introduced Officer Clemmons, a black police officer who was a kindly, responsible authority figure, kept his neighborhood safe, and was Mr. Roger’s equal, colleague and neighbor.
“Around the first anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death, Mr. Rogers invited Officer Clemmons to join him in soaking their tired feet in a plastic wading pool. And there they were, brown feet and pasty white feet, side by side in the water. Silently, contemplatively, without comment.
“25 years later, when the actor playing Officer Clemmons retired, his last scene on the show revisited that same wading pool, this time reminiscing. Officer Clemmons asked Mr. Rogers what he’d been thinking during their silent interlude a quarter century before. Fred Rogers’ answer was that he’d been thinking of the many ways people say “I love you.”
– Carl Aveni’s FB page
Mr Rogers was one of the good ones.
Considering the fraught and painful history of excluding black people from swimming pools in that era, there is no way this wasn’t a very pointed commentary to the people who were being exclusionary. This was a specifically chosen visual.
It’s not a fuck-you. Mr. Rogers didn’t do fuck-yous. But it was a clear, decisive, pointed statement. It was more than just showing inclusion; it was a deliberate response to what was going on in the world. This was him saying “you can do better. We can all do better. What you are doing is wrong.” This was a sweet, simple, and relatable thing to show little kids, to give them a view of a black man as kind and professional and a trusted adult – but also a lovely and strong statement to their parents and to the world.
It could have lost him his show, or at least his national distribution. It could have gotten him attacked both in the news and personally in person, but he did it anyway. I wish I knew if he ever talked about this, and how aware he and the show producers were of the statement this made.
Man, do we need more Fred Rogers in the world.
Always reblog Fred Rogers.