Friday, March 11, 2016

Fred Rogers the Subversive

This morning I heard yet another reason to thank God for inventing a Fred Rogers.

François Clemmons was featured on Story Corps this morning with his friend Karl Lindholm. Clemmons, “the first African American actor to have a recurring role on a children’s television series,” talked about how he met Mr. Rogers, and related a scene he played with him:

It was a hot day, and there was a kiddie wading pool, and Rogers was resting his feet in the water. He invited “Officer Clemmons” to join him and rest his feet for a bit. Clemmons accepted, removing his shoes and placing his feet into the cool water in the kiddie pool.

If I have this right, the camera very deliberately showed the contrasting pairs of feet in the water. After a while, as they stepped out of the pool, Rogers helped dry Clemmons’s feet.

Wow! That must have been visual dynamite at the time, probably in the early years of Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood, which began in 1968.

Clemmons also mentioned a time when Rogers was saying his usual, "You make every day special just by being you" while looking right at him. He asked if Rogers had been talking to him.

“I've been talking to you every day, François; today you heard me.”

I could never have worked on that show; I'd be crying all the time from the intensity of love and beauty in a time of racial suspicion and hatred; a time of much hostility and ugliness—a time much like ours.

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