Power of Service

In 1969, when African-American citizens in the United States were not permitted to swim in community pools along side white people, Fred Rogers brought a African-American police officer to his television show and invited him to cool his feet with him in a small, plastic wading pool. Mr. Rogers then helped Officer Clemmons to dry his feet.

Though segregation was no longer the law of the land in America by the end of the 1960s, black citizens were still not embraced as equal participants in public life. This status was reflected at many community pools across the country, with whites preventing blacks from sharing the water with them. It was in this atmosphere that Fred Rogers performed a simple but meaningful act in episode 1065 of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which aired on May 9, 1969. Rogers invited Officer Clemmons, a black police officer on the show, to join him and cool his feet in a small plastic wading pool. When Clemmons sat down and placed his feet in the water, right next to Rogers’, the two men broke a well-known color barrier.

Clemmons hoped ‘the world would change’ after the episode

An episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood couldn’t possibly erase the long history of discrimination in pools and elsewhere. But Rogers’ actions were a step along the path toward blacks and whites being free to splash, swim and live together. As Clemmons said to the Pittsburgh City Paper in 2018, “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.”

The pair recreated the pool scene 24 years later

Both Clemmons and Rogers understood the importance of their pool scene. In 2018, Clemmons told a Vermont news website, “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.

In 1993, when Clemmons made a last 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 Clemmons’ feet himself.

2020 Biography.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/news/mister-rogers-officer-clemmons-pool

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