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Fred Rodgers and Francois Clemmons

Months After Martin Luther King Jr. was Assassinated, Fred Rodgers and Francois Clemmons Worked Together to Fight Segragation.

Racial segregation keeps people in separate institutions like schools and churches and facilities like parks, playgrounds, restaurants, and restrooms. Through legal and social color lines, racial segregation allows the politically dominant group to maintain its economic advantages and superior social status. In recent years, white populations have primarily used it to do so. But did you know how Fred Rodgers and Francois Clemmons collaborated against segregation?

Fred Rodgers and Francois Clemmons worked together to demonstrate how to integrate swimming pools by dipping their feet in the pool together. This happened months after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.

Breaking the Barrier and Ending Segregation

By the end of the 1960s, segregation was no longer a legal requirement in America, but Black people were still not treated equally as members of society. White people prevented Black people from using the water with them at many community pools across the nation, reflecting this status.

In this setting, on May 9, 1969, Fred Rogers performed a straightforward but profound act in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episode 1065. Officer Clemmons, a Black police officer, featured on the show, was invited by Rogers to join him and cool his feet in a tiny plastic wading pool. A well-known color barrier was broken by Clemmons and Rogers when they both sat down and dipped their feet into the water next to one another. (Source: Biography

Overall Segregation

Since Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed a year earlier, Rogers was aware that Black people were still being denied swimming pool access, and racial tensions were growing. So, he purposefully sent a message on the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episode from May 9, 1969. In a scene from the show, Rogers asked François Clemmons’ character, Officer Clemmons, a Black police officer, if he would like to join him in a kiddie pool to cool off. Clemmons initially turned down the invitation because he didn’t have a towel, but Rogers offered to let him use his. (Source: Biography

The World-Changing Episode

A Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episode can’t undo the long history of discrimination in swimming pools and other places. However, Rogers’ actions were a step in the right direction toward Black and White people being allowed to interact, swim, and coexist peacefully.

I carried the hope inside of me that, one day, the world would change. And I do feel that the world still has not totally changed, but it is changing. We’re getting there.

Francois Clemmons

Rogers’ own life serves as an example of how attitudes can change. He asked the homosexual Clemmons to conceal his sexual orientation for the show’s benefit in the 1960s and 1970s; Clemmons complied because he knew how widely condemned homosexuality was at the time. Rogers, however, eventually decided to accept Clemmons.

Clemmons and Rogers were both aware of the significance of their pool scene.

It was a definite call to social action on Fred’s part. That was his way of speaking about race relations in America. The interaction remains emblematic of the messages of love, kindness, and acceptance that Rogers was trying to share with his show’s viewers.

Francois Clemmons

(Source: Biography

Image from VanityFair