As someone who grew up watching his program, Fred Rogers remains a formative influence on my life. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of his “Neighborhood”, and the year is being marked with a variety of celebrations, from a postage stamp to a documentary to a feature film starring Tom Hanks. If you want the definitive explanation of why Mister Rogers was such a remarkable individual, then I would recommend this profile (warning, you may want to have a few tissues at hand — I’m not crying, you’re crying!).
As a child, you knew Mister Rogers would always tell you the truth, and never speak down to you, even when confronting frightening issues like death, divorce, or war. A key character on the early days of the show was police Officer Clemons, the first African-American to have a recurring role on a kids TV series. In the early days of television, Rogers realized the cultural impact this technology would have, much of it negative, and devoted his life to, “the broadcasting of grace through the land.” As we grapple with new social and anti-social technologies, I often find myself wondering what he would have thought of our addictive new devices.
If you were a Mister Rogers kid (or the parent of one), I don’t have to tell you why he was special. If you aren’t so familiar, the video below will give you a sense of him. Appearing before Congress in 1969, as the Senate was about to halve the funding for the newly formed Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rogers, in less than seven minutes, wins over the gruff and abrasive panel, saving the day for educational television.