When Mister Rogers invited Officer Clemmons—played by Francois Clemmons ’67—to join him in cooling his feet in a pool of water, the pair was not only spending a refreshing moment together, Rogers was proudly showing his viewers where he stood on civil rights at a time when some public pools prohibited Black swimmers.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a preschool-friendly, educational program, was created and hosted by Fred Rogers, an author and minister. Each episode was a series of teachable moments.
After Mister Rogers entered his TV home, removed an overcoat, and slipped into his signature sweater, viewers were whisked away to the Land of Make Believe, paid a visit to a factory where they were shown how an everyday item was made, asked to join Rogers in blowing bubbles or painting, or visited by one of his friends in the neighborhood, including Officer Clemmons, who joined the show as the singing policeman in 1968. The show also tackled tough subjects such as divorce, death, and the acceptance of people from all backgrounds.
Clemmons, an award-winning opera singer, shares his experiences with joining the show, his journeys as a young musician and gay Black man, and his friendship with Rogers in his first book, Officer Clemmons, A Memoir. The Oberlin Alumni Magazine interviewed Clemmons for a feature in the fall/winter 2020 issue. In one account, Clemmons recalls feelings of great loss when The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968, and how Rogers and his wife came to his aid. “For the first time I really felt that a man stood up on my behalf,” he said.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired its last episode in 2001.
Read more about Officer Clemmons, A Memoir in the latest edition of the OAM.
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