These powerful Mr. Rogers posters are popping up around Pittsburgh. They are part of a campaign called the Be My Neighbor Project.
You may remember the gentleman on the left as Officer Clemmons. The role was played by CMU alumnus François Clemmons for 25 years.
Stuck in the Closet
It’s no secret that François Clemmons is a gay man, but our readers may or may not be surprised that while Mr. Rogers was accepting of Clemmons’s sexuality on a personal level, he was adamant about not allowing Clemmons to play a gay character on the show.
This entry on Wikipedia goes on to makes claims that would not bode well in 2018:
“Rogers suggested that Clemmons get married as a cover for his sexual orientation, which he did. His marriage to wife Carol did not work out, and Clemmons divorced in 1974 so that he could live openly as a gay man.”
Race in Your Face
While Mr. Rogers was laser-focused with the direction of the show and did not want to risk being too controversial, he did not fail to communicate with the subconscious minds of his viewers by creating powerful messages.
From 1968 to 1993, the role of Officer Clemmons made a strong statement with regards to race. Yes, Mr. Rogers was friends with a black neighbor. Yes, a black man could be an important and respected authority figure in the community. Furthermore, Officer Clemmons was the first black character to have a recurring role on a children’s television show.
Love is for Everyone
The photo in the poster was captured during one of Officer Clemmons’s last scenes on the show. It was during Love Week. In the scene, Mr. Rogers invites Officer Clemmons to dip his feet in the wading pool. While cooling off, they had a conversation about saying “I love you.”
Clemmons sings Many Ways to Say I Love You, and then Mr. Rogers leans over to help Clemmons dry his feet with a towel. Let that sink in.
Click here for the full clip of Officer Clemmons and Mr. Rogers in the wading pool.
Be My Neighbor Project
The bottom left corner of the posters credit @ctoocheck. They are hard to ignore: Two grown men with their feet in a kids wading pool. One black guy, one white guy. Sitting as closely as possible. With big smiles on their faces.
The posters remind each of us be a good person and treat others with kindness despite any differences on the surface. This is especially relevant with the recent protests, where people of all races have been rallying together seeking justice for Antwon Rose.
There is another poster by the same creator, featuring the lyrics to the Mr. Rogers theme song and a small note asking people to write to the mayor with requests to make this the official song of the City of Pittsburgh. Check it out here.
Print your own BE THE NEIGHBOR MR. ROGERS WOULD WANT YOU TO BE poster at bit.ly/pghlove.
Buy the book Peaceful Neighbor which talks about the friendship between Fred Rogers and François Clemmons.