In mid-2018, the Peanuts character Franklin turned 50. That means that in 1968, amid extreme racial unrest, Charles Schulz took the bold step of inserting into the previously homogeneous world of Charlie Brown et al. a new face of a different color. With no fanfare, with no hoopla, with no self-congratulations, three months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Schulz literally changed the face of the American comic strip forever.
Interestingly, Schulz had been agonizing for quite some time about whether or not to include a black child in the Peanuts gang. He was worried it would seem patronizing, so he kept putting it off. But a few weeks after the assassination, Los Angeles schoolteacher and mother of three, Harriet Glickman, wrote Schultz a letter asking him to bring a black character into the Peanuts’ world. Her letter began a remarkable conversation.
Certainly, not everyone was pleased about the addition. I’m sure Schulz got his share of private hate mail, but publicly, at least, the worst thing anyone had to say about Franklin, who became a permanent part of the Peanuts, was that he was a little boring. I suspect that was Schulz being cautious, but I also think making him just another kid was probably just what was needed.
After Charles Schulz’s death, Harriet Glickman was interviewed about their correspondence. Ever humble, she had this to say:
“You wanted to do something: you felt powerless in a situation like that. I thought, ‘This might be a nice little idea.’”
Wherever you are, bless you both for your courage.
Letters courtesy of The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center.