Although there was no law of segregation in the US until the 1960s, black citizens were not adopted as equal partners in public life. This situation was reflected in many community pools around the country, in which whites prevented blacks from sharing water with them.
It was in this atmosphere that Fred Rogers performed a simple yet meaningful act in episode 1065 of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, which aired on May 9, 1969. Rogers invited Clemmons, a black police officer on the show, to join him and cool him down. Legs in a small plastic wading pool. When Clemmons sat and put his feet in the water, right next to Rogers, the two men broke a famous color barrier.
Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pools across the country were still kept separate.
In the 20th century, many communities in the United States built pools for children and adults to swim and splatter. However, some of these places were welcomed by black people.
Many whites thought of pools as thoughtless because they fueled the racist notion that African Americans were more likely to spread the disease. Pool-goers were also stripped of color due to great fear about the need to protect the trait of white women from predatory black men.
There was a law of secession throughout the South. And although Jim Crow laws were not often on the books in northern locations, there was discriminatory behavior there. Isolation in the pool was sometimes enforced by intimidation and violence, such as beating any black swimmer who tried to get in the water.
Like buses and lunch counters, pools became places of protest during the civil rights fight. In 1964, a group of blacks and whites leaped into an isolated pool at a motel in St. Augustine, Florida. This enraged the manager that he had added acid to the water (fortunately, the acid in the pool water was dilute and no one was injured).
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended the accepted segregation of various races in public areas. But many white people opposed the rapport, including pools. In 1969, pools around the country were still shutting down black people.
Mr. Rogers and Officer Kleiman shared not only a pool, but also a towel
Rogers knew that the pool continued to prohibit black people from entering in 1969 and racial tensions were rising – Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered a year earlier. So he sent a deliberate message in the episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on May 9, 1969.
During the show, Rogers asks Officer Clemmons if he wants to cool his feet with Rogers in the children’s wading pool, a black police officer played by François Clemmons. Clemmons initially declined the invitation, noting that he did not have a towel – but Rogers said Clemons could share his.
The action in the 1065 episode was not complicated: two men took off their shoes and socks, took off their pants and then swung their feet together in a shallow pool on a hot day. But Rogers and Clemons demonstrated that a black man and a white man can share water in peace.
When Clemmons was to go, he used Rogers’ towel to dry his feet, as promised. Rogers left the pool directly after Clemson and proceeded to use the same towel. Their casual intimacy highlighted the possibility of black citizens being denied access to pools, or any other place in society.
After the episode, Kleiman hoped ‘the world would change’
An episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood could not possibly erase the long history of discrimination at the pool and elsewhere. But Rogers’ task was a step towards freeing blacks and whites to splatter, swim, and live together.
As Clemmons told the Pittsburgh City Paper in 2018, “I instilled in me the hope that, one day, the world will change. And I think the world still hasn’t changed completely, but it’s changing. We.” .. getting there.”
Rogers’ own life reflects how attitudes can change. In the 1960s and ’70s he asked Gay Clemons to hide his sexuality for the sake of the show; Clemmons, realizing that homosexuality was widely condemned at the time, followed suit. However, Rogers personally came to accept Kleiman.
The pair recreated the pool scene after 24 years
Both Clemmons and Rogers understood the importance of their pool scene. In 2018, Clemmons told a Vermont news website, “It was a definite call for social action on Fred’s behalf. It was his way of speaking about race relations in America.” There remains a reconciliation of the messages of love, kindness, and acceptance that Rogers was trying to share with his show’s audience.
In 1993, when Clemmons made his final appearance on the show, he and Rogers recreated the pool scene, during which Clemmons sang “Many Ways to Say I Love You”. But this time Clemmons didn’t just use Rogers ‘towel – Rogers took the towel and dried Clemens’ feet himself.