In a neighborly interview with StoryCorps, performer François Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, recalls with great fondness, that beautiful day in 1968 when Fred Rogers asked him to soak his feet in a kiddie pool together on a very hot day. This simple, friendly gesture carried a great deal of meaning both politically and even more so personally for Clemmons, as he finally understood that the man with whom he worked saw him to be a friend as well.
The icon Fred Rogers not only was showing my brown skin in the tub with his white skin as two friends, but as I was getting out of that tub he was helping me dry my feet and so that scene touched me in a way that I was not prepared. Sometimes just a minute like this, will it really make a difference? I think he was making a very strong statement, that was his way. I still was not convinced that Officer Clemens could have a positive influence in the neighborhood and in the real world neighborhood but I think I was proven wrong.
Clemmons also wrote Officer Clemmons: A Memoir, a heartfelt book about this beautiful friendship.
‘Officer Clemmons’ details Clemmons’s incredible life story, beginning with his early years in Alabama and Ohio, marked by family trauma and loss, through his studies as a music major at Oberlin College, where Clemmons began to investigate and embrace his homosexuality, to a chance encounter with Fred Rogers that changed the whole course of both men’s lives, leading to a deep, spiritual friendship and mentorship spanning nearly forty years.