Fact Check

Did Fred Rogers Sue the KKK?

The beloved children’s television program host took on the white supremacist organization back in 1990.

Published Mar 20, 2021

 (Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Wikimedia Commons
In 1990, Fred Rogers and his company, Family Communications Inc., sued to stop members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) from playing racist telephone recordings that imitated his children’s television program.

Beloved children's television host "Mister Rogers" took on an unlikely group back in 1990: the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

Missouri-based members of the white supremacist organization were accused of playing racist recordings that imitated his children’s show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on a telephone line that callers could dial into after the number was circulated around the city of Independence, Missouri. In late 1990, Fred Rogers and his production company Family Communications Inc. sued, saying the materials infringed on the program's trademarks and copyrights.

The telephone number circulated reportedly was the same used in early 1990 to promote the beliefs of the Missouri Knights of the KKK.

On Oct. 11, 1990, a federal district judge in Missouri ordered the Missouri Knights of the KKK to stop playing the racist telephone recordings and turn over tape recordings and all other materials. Their messages had imitated the sound effects and songs of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” as well as Rogers’ voice and speech patterns. According to The New York Times in 1990:

On the first tape, the Mr. Rogers impersonator points out a black youngster on a playground and calls him a "[n-----] drug pusher." At the end of the tape, the Klan lynches the youth. In a second tape, the Mr. Rogers impersonator ridicules homosexuals and says, "AIDS was divine retribution."

Cynthia E. Kernick, Rogers’ lawyer said the messages, "are of racism, white supremacy and bigotry - the antithesis of everything Rogers and Family Communications Inc. stand for." A group of civil rights leaders had also complained that a telephone number that played the messages was circulated among elementary and middle school students in Independence.

Given that this moment in history was covered by reputable news outlets including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press in 1990, we rate this claim as “True.”

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.

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