💙💚What it’s all about 💚💙
François Clemmons was singing in a Pittsburgh-area church when he first met Fred Rogers. Taken by his voice, Fred asked François to join the cast of his new television show as singing policeman Officer Clemmons. He would go on to play the role for 25 years, becoming the first African American actor to have a recurring part on a children’s TV show.
Initially, he was uneasy about taking on the role of Officer Clemmons, having personally had negative interactions with the police, and having witnessed the violence civil rights demonstrators had faced at the hands of law enforcement. But a scene from a 1969 episode of the show helped convince him that his role would have a positive impact on society.
During the show, Mister Rogers invited Officer Clemmons to take a break from his work walking the beat and join him in a kiddie pool to cool his feet. As the scene concludes, in what is clearly a biblical gesture, Fred, who was also a Presbyterian minister, takes a towel and dries Officer Clemmons’ feet for him. Twenty-five years later, they reprised the scene during François’ final appearance on the show.
Fred Rogers’ friendship and kindness stood in contrast to other scenes involving swimming pools in the 1960s. At this time, similar to water fountains, public transportation, and public schools, public pools had become a battleground of racial segregation. Under Jim Crow era policy, not only could black people and white people not swim at the same time, many pools were entirely off limits to black people, fueled by a fear that African-Americans carried disease and the view that swimming pools were physically (and by extension sexually) intimate contexts.
I cherish this moment when Mister Rogers looks into the screen as if to say, how dare you try to separate us.
Story taken and edited from StoryCorps and Christ and pop culture. Also beautifully told in the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, in theaters now!!!!