In May 1969, a 41-year-old television personality from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania appeared before the United States Senate to argue why public television needed federal support and explain how important it was to many children.
Fred Rogers’ brief and impassioned back and forth was with Senator John O. Pastore (D-R.I.), who wanted to cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS) by half.
As the head of the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Pastore was looking to cut federal funds to help meet the weighty financial demands of the Vietnam War. Pastore aimed to reduce funding for PBS to $10 million from $20 million.
Though he was unfamiliar with Rogers’ work, Pastore listened to the mild-mannered personality as he described why his show and others like it mattered to children.
“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,'” Rogers explained.
“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.”
Rogers went on to explain that surely he felt programs like his own were of more value to the youth of America than those that showed people fighting with guns.
After listening to Rogers speak, Pastore was famously moved, enough to announce in the Senate Chamber that he felt goosebumps.
“Well, I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, and this is the first time I’ve had goosebumps for the last two days,” he said.
At Pastore’s insistence, Rogers then recited the words to a song about dealing with one’s feelings, which helped Pastore immediately change his tune.
“I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the 20 million dollars,” he said.