In 1968, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the country in turmoil and divided, a school teacher, Harriet Glickman, wrote to famed “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz and presented a simple idea to try to bring the country together.
Charles Schulz did not have to respond to her letter, he could have just completely ignored it, and everyone would have forgotten about it. But, Schulz did take the time to respond, saying he was intrigued with the idea, but felt that it may sound condescending to people of color.
The link below shows a series of letters between the two, where they discussed how to introduce a black character to the Peanuts group and how it would be taken. Schulz took the time to respond to each letter, and, although hesitant at first, finally sent a letter back to Glickman asking her to check the cartoon on a certain date.
On that date, the cartoon, as created by Schulz, shows Charlie Brown meeting a new character, named Franklin. Other than his color, Franklin was just an ordinary kid who befriends and helps Charlie Brown. Franklin also mentions that his father was “over at Vietnam.” At the end of the series, which lasted three strips, Charlie invites Franklin to spend the night one day so they can continue their friendship.
There was no big announcement, there was no big deal, it was just a natural conversation between two kids, whose obvious differences did not matter to them. And, the fact that Franklin’s father was fighting for this country was also a very strong statement by Schulz.
Although Schulz never made a big deal over the inclusion of Franklin, there were many fans, especially in the South, who were very upset by it and that made national news. One Southern editor even said, “I don’t mind you having a black character, but please don’t show them in school together.”
It would eventually lead to a conversation between Schulz and the president of the comic’s distribution company, who was concerned about the introduction of Franklin and how it might affect Schulz’ popularity. Many newspapers during that time had threatened to cut the strip.
Schulz’ response: “I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin — he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, “Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?”
Eventually, Franklin became a regular character in the comic strips, and, despite complaints, Franklin would be shown sitting in front of Peppermint Patty at school and playing center field on her baseball team. Franklin would make his first animated appearance in the 1973 special “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” Another African-American character, Milo, would also later appear in the cartoon strip.
Charles Schulz, born on November 26, 1922.