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Throwback Thursday: That Time Mister Rogers Got Congress to Fund Public Broadcasting With Incredibly Emotional Testimony

The life and work of Mister Rogers is back in the cultural discussion, thanks to the new Tom Hanks-starring film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

The film is the second in two years to tell the story of Fred Rogers, following the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Rogers was a passionate advocate for public television how it could be used to teach and help children in a simple, honest way, and for this Thanksgiving Throwback Thursday, we invite you to reflect upon what may be one of the most surreal yet profoundly emotional congressional testimonies of the past few decades.

In 1969, Rogers testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications — chaired by Sen. John Pastore — to oppose huge cuts in funding to public broadcasting proposed by the Nixon administration.

“I’ve worked in the field of child development for six years now,” he said, “trying to understand the inner needs of children. We deal with such things as the inner drama of childhood. We don’t have to bop somebody over the head to make drama on the screen. We deal with such things as getting a haircut, or the feelings about brothers and sisters, and the kind of anger that arises in simple family situations. And we speak to it constructively.”

He described the significance of engaging with children on television with “a meaningful expression of care”:

“This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, ‘You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.’ And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health. I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger — much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire. I’m constantly concerned about what our children are seeing.”

And his testimony ended with a moment that sounds like something out of a movie.

Rogers actually recited the lyrics to “What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?”

What do you do with the mad that you feel?
When you feel so mad you could bite.
When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong,
and nothing you do seems very right.

What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag
or see how fast you go?

It’s great to be able to stop
when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong.
And be able to do something else instead
and think this song.

I can stop when I want to, can stop when I wish.
Can stop, stop, stop anytime.
And what a good feeling to feel like this.
And know that the feeling is really mine.

Know that there’s something deep inside
that helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a lady,
and a boy can be someday a man.

Pastore said in response, “I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million.” Applause broke out in the room.

What both the documentary and the biopic get across is that yes, Rogers really was that good of a person.

You can watch a clip from Won’t You Be My Neighbor? about his testimony below:

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