Parenting

12 Moments That Show The Importance Of Mister Rogers' Work

From the time he challenged racism to the time he normalized breastfeeding.
06/08/2018 11:31am ET
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Fred Rogers' show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" ran for 31 seasons.

Anyone who grew up watching Fred Rogers on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” would probably have a hard time picking out just one favorite scene or lesson from the show’s 31 seasons.

But Rogers, who died in 2003 at the age of 74, also had many heartwarming off-screen moments. The children’s programming icon was in many ways ahead of his time, and was known for doing lovely, delightful, inspiring and memorable things. Here are 12 moments to remember:

That time he confronted racism head-on

François Clemmons, a black man, had a recurring role as a police officer on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” In a 1969 episode, Rogers invited Clemmons to sit with him and put his feet in a small pool of water. (They also re-enacted the scene in 1993.)

“He invited me to come over and to rest my feet in the water with him,” Clemmons told NPR in 2016. “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.”

Clemmons also discussed the special moment in the trailer (above) for the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” which comes out Friday.

“They didn’t want black people to come and swim in their swimming pools,” he said. “My being on the program was a statement for Fred.”

That time he normalized breastfeeding

Rogers showed he supported normalizing breastfeeding in an episode from the 1980s, long before any hashtag campaign existed. The show featured a montage of mammals (including humans) feeding their babies. The clip showed human infants latching and unlatching onto exposed nipples, as well as a mother bottle-feeding her child.

That time he challenged stigma surrounding disability

Rogers invited a boy named Jeff Erlanger to the show so he could talk about the experience of using an electric wheelchair. In the episode that aired in 1981, Rogers asked Erlanger about how he got his wheelchair and how it worked. The conversation offered young viewers a look at other kids’ experiences.

And that time he was reunited with Erlanger

Erlanger, who became an activist for people with disabilities, surprised Rogers when he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1999.

Erlanger then told Rogers how much he and his show had meant to him and many others.

“When you tell people that it’s you I like, you know that you really mean it,” he said. “And tonight I want to let you know that on behalf of millions of children and grown-ups, it is you that I like.”

That time he defended public programming to Congress

After President Richard Nixon showed support for cutting federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1969, Rogers gave a passionate speech in front of the Senate’s subcommittee on communications. The TV host explained that he was “constantly concerned” about what television offered kids and that he made sure his show had an inspiring message.

“I end the program by saying, ‘You made this day a special day by just you being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you and I like you just the way you are,’” he said.

Subcommittee chairman John Pastore said after the speech that it was the first time he’d “had goosebumps in the last two days.”

That time he talked about ‘the helpers’

Or the many times, rather. One of Rogers’ most famous quotes typically resurfaces after tragedies.

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He has talked about this quote many times, and offered several variations on it.

“To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers ― so many caring people in this world,” Rogers has said, according to the Fred Rogers Productions website.

People shared Rogers’ quote about “helpers” in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, last year’s Manchester Arena bombing and the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that took place in February.

That time he offered to help parents learn about how to talk to kids about tragedy

Rogers advised parents to start by asking the children what they know, according to a clip from the Fred Rogers Productions Vimeo page. He said they should then tell their kids that they will be there for them no matter what.

“What children probably need to hear most from us adults is that they can talk with us about anything, and that we will do all we can to keep them safe in any scary time,” he said.

That time he talked about adoption

Rogers said on his show that he had a younger sister who had been adopted and that he’d been happy to become a brother.

“My sister didn’t look exactly like me and she didn’t look exactly like our mother or dad, but you don’t have to be exactly like somebody to be able to love them,” he said.

That time he talked about death

Rogers was known for addressing tough topics like death in order to make it easier for kids to talk through their feelings. In one of his early episodes, Rogers mentioned the death of his beloved dog, how he wanted to “pretend that she was still alive” and how his family helped him cope.

That time he gave a memorable acceptance speech

When he accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Emmy Awards, Rogers thanked the many people who had helped him become successful ― then got an entire room of celebrities to do the same.

“Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life?” he asked the audience. “Ten seconds of silence, I’ll watch the time.”

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Actor Tim Robbins presented Rogers with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Emmys.

That time he talked about divorce

“Some people get married and after a while, they’re so unhappy with each other that they don’t want to be married anymore,” he said matter-of-factly during a Season 11 episode.

He also said some kids believe the separation is their fault and encouraged them not to feel that way.

That time he gave an inspiring speech to the many people who grew up watching him

PBS aired a short video of Rogers five months before he died.

In it, he shared a heartwarming message to all his neighbors who grew up watching his show and who passed it on to the kids in their lives. After offering his classic line, “I like you just the way you are,” the host thanked his fans.

“And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe,” he said. “And to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods. It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.”