It’s a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood

It’s a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood
In a 1993 episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Rogers invited Officer Clemmons to soak his feet in a wading pool, a reference to a 1969 episode with a similar scene, which aired amid civil unrest over racially segregated pools.

In a 1993 episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Rogers invited Officer Clemmons to soak his feet in a wading pool, a reference to a 1969 episode with a similar scene, which aired amid civil unrest over racially segregated pools.The Fred Rogers Company

 / Source: TODAY
By Maura Hohman

Fred Rogers is known for the kindness he displayed on his kids’ show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which aired from 1968 to 2001. Today, his messages are just as powerful as people across the world protest racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody.

Two scenes in particular — one aired in 1969 and the other in 1993, according to NPR — have stood out to social media users who’ve been sharing them on Twitter and Instagram. Both scenes show Rogers, who died in 2003, and Officer Clemmons, played by black actor François Clemmons, placing their feet in a wading pool together.

The first scene aired amid civil unrest over pool segregation policies in the U.S., and many perceive it as Rogers taking a stand against racism. The same year it aired, the Supreme Court ruled that pools could not be segregated by race, according to The New York Times.

In the scene, Rogers is spraying his feet in a wading pool when Officer Clemmons stops by, and Rogers asks him to join. Clemmons initially responds that he doesn’t have a towel, and Rogers offers to share his.

Twenty-four years later, in the pair’s last episode together per NPR, the show broadcast a similar moment. Rogers tells Clemmons that he’s soaking his feet because they’re tired and asks if Clemmons would like to try. “Sure!” Clemmons responds.

Clemmons discussed these striking clips in the 2018 documentary about the show, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, and while promoting his memoir published in May this year.

“They didn’t want black people to come and swim in their swimming pools, and Fred said, ‘That is absolutely ridiculous,'” Clemmons recalled in the documentary.

In an interview with public radio outlet WBUR last month, Clemmons said he initially thought the 1969 scene was “kind of light” because he was expecting it to involve Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated the year prior, or even the president at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Explaining how Rogers offered him a seat and a towel, Clemmons told WBUR, “My God, those were powerful words. It was transformative to sit there with him, thinking to myself, ‘Oh, something wonderful is happening here. This is not what it looks like. It’s much bigger.'”

He continued: “Many people, as I’ve traveled around the country, share with me what that particular moment meant to them because he was telling them, ‘You cannot be a racist.’ And one guy … I’ll never forget, said to me, ‘When that program came on, we were actually discussing the fact that black people were inferior. And Mister Rogers cut right through it.’ … He said essentially that scene ended that argument.”

Social media users all over are agreeing with this notion. Actress Brittany Snow shared a photo of the 1993 scene and its historical background in her caption. “Disagreeing with Mr. Rogers is like hating puppies, laughing & calorie free ice cream,” she quipped.

“Mr. Rogers … (broke) the color barrier live on television,” tweeted a third.

Clemmons, now 75, has also spoken openly about what it was like to portray a cop as a black man — and how the pool scenes actually comforted him.

In a February 2018 interview with StoryCorps, he recalled that Rogers’ suggestion he become Officer Clemmons “stopped me in my tracks.”

“I grew up in the ghetto, and I did not have a positive opinion of police officers,” he said. “Policemen were siccing dogs and water hoses on people, and I really had a hard time putting myself in that role. I was not excited about being Officer Clemmons at all.”

But Clemmons believes the pool scene made “a very strong statement” by showing his “brown skin in the tub with (Rogers’) white skin as two friends,” he said.

“I still was not convinced that Officer Clemmons could have a positive influence in the neighborhood and the real world neighborhood,” he added. “But I think I was proven wrong.”

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