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Wednesday: The Day of Roosevelt Franklin

Jan 29, 2014


Yesterday, our music director, the music encyclopedia better known as Ross, showed me a hidden closet, tucked deep away within the corridors of the K, that I did not know existed. The closet had an old bike, a broom, and a stache of vinyl that ranged from ABBA to KRS-1. There was one album in the cache that really got my attention though. It was the 1971 album called The Year of Roosevelt Franklin.

         The Year of Roosevelt Franklin was an album put out by Children’s Television Workshop; an organization fronted by Joan Cooney and Jim Henson, as well as many other educators, child-psychologists, and TV people looking to create a more effective and entertaining form of children’s television. They succeeded and then some with the conception of Sesame Street, which premiered in 1969. You can read a great account of this in the book Street Gang, by Michael Davis.

         Roosevelt Franklin was one of the original members of the gang. He was a Muppet, but not a Muppet like Oscar, Big Bird, Bert, or Ernie. Roosevelt was a little different than everyone on Sesame Street; Roosevelt Franklin was black. He represented the African American community on the Street.

         The Year of Roosevelt Franklin was a children’s album staring the puppet singing the songs of Sesame Street. The album featured songs like “Roosevelt Franklin Counts” and “Keep on Trying” and a whole host of other Sesame Street songs sung by our felty friend. The album was intended to teach kids in the fun, playful way Sesame Street was known for.

The most notable track on the album, and the one we chose to play, was not meant to teach elementary education, but rather it was designed to teach acceptance of one’s self. The song is called “The Skin I’m In.” It is an ode to Roosevelt, from Roosevelt. It is a very simple song in which the puppet declares his pride for the color of his skin. He is proud of his skin and he is proud of himself. It is a self-affirming slow jam you can’t listen to without feeling proud of yourself., and turn away from those who can’t see past color.

         “The Skin I’m In” is one of the many examples of The Muppets that being different isn’t bad, especially when it comes to one’s color. In 1970 the people at The Henson Company released “Being Green,” an even more famous tribute to uniqueness and loving/accepting one’s self. The tradition of the Muppets being proud of their differences has continued now, most notably with the song “I Love My Hair,” which also caters to African Americans. The music of the Muppets, particularly "The Skin I'm In," highlights not only the best of American media, but the best in ourselves.