Being Black in ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’

(TV clicking)
(upbeat tinny music) – [Voiceover] Nearly everyone remembers Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. ♫ It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood ♫ But not everyone knows that this cardigan-clad
king of children's TV, Fred Rogers, was actually a pioneer who challenged racial
stereotypes in media. Enter Francois Clemmons. – Francois Scarborough Clemmons. – [Voiceover] And his
role as Officer Clemmons made him one of the first
recurring black characters on a children's TV show. (upbeat electronic music) – When I started, there were
two, three shows, period, on television that
employed a black character. – [Voiceover] Francois grew up during the Civil Rights movement, in times of great racial
tension in the US. – So when Fred asked me
to be a police officer, "Fred, are you sure? "Do you know what policemen
represent in the community "where I was raised?" And then he started talking
about children needing helpers, and the positive influence
that I could have for young children.

My heart opened as I listened to him. – [Voiceover] He accepted
the role, not knowing he would end up playing
Officer Clemmons for 30 years. And one of his most memorable scenes is also one of his favorites. ♫ There are many ways ♫ To say I love you, there are ♫ – [Francois] It's a very big deal for me to be putting my
feet in the water with Fred. – [Voiceover] During
a time of segregation, the symbolism wasn't lost on Francois. – To say that he didn't
know what he was doing, or that he accidentally
stumbled into integration, or talking about racism or sexism, that's not Mister Rogers.

Civil Rights

It was well planned and well thought out. And I think it was very impactful. ♫ There are many ways ♫ To say I love you ♫ – [Voiceover] That
impact was felt by many, but for Francois, it was personal. – I was in the studio one day, that particular day, he was
filming the end of the show. And when he got to the part, he said, "You make every day a special day." – You know how, by just your being you. – And I swear, it was like, he was looking right into my eyes. And when the music stopped, I said, "Fred, were you talking to me?" And he said, yes, I have been
talking to you for years, but you heard me today. (piano music).

As found on YouTube

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