On April 15, 1968, following the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., a school teacher named Harriet Glickman wrote a letter to one Charles M. Schulz, urging him that an African American character needed to be added to the popular comic strip.
Schulz wrote back expressing an interest and an open mind but also being honest about his hesitation, worrying that including a black character might come across as patronizing or condescending.
Lest anyone be put off by Schulz’s initially hesitant response or by the use of the term “Negro,” it should be remembered that this was the 1960s. His fears were widely shared by other cartoonists as well. For instance, Glickman had also written to Allen Saunders who drew the Mary Worth comic strip who wrote back that “it is still impossible to put a Negro in a role of high professional importance and have the reader accept it as valid. And the militant Negro will not accept any member of his race now in any of the more humble roles in which we now regularly show whites. He too would be hostile and try to eliminate our product.”
Given Schulz’s open-ended response, Glickman wrote him again asking if she could show his letter to her black friends who were also fans of Peanuts to see what they would think. “Their response may prove useful to you in your thinking on this subject,” she wrote.
Schulz agreed but also continued to express worry: “I would be very happy to try, but I am sure that I would receive the sort of criticism that would make it appear as if I were doing this in a condescending manner,” he wrote back.
Glickman’s efforts to collect letters from her black friends was interrupted by the assassination of Robert Kennedy, another event that shocked the nation during this troubled time, but not before she was able to send two letters to Schulz, promising more to come later.
However, it was apparently all Schulz needed.
On July 1, 1968, he sent a letter to Glickman asking her to check the papers during the week of July 29. When Glickman did this is what she saw:
Thus was “Franklin Armstrong” introduced on July 31, 1968, representing the importance of desegregation. Most remarkably, he was not portrayed as being unusual or different in any other way. He was just a regular kid, and even more significantly he became a very close friend to Charlie Brown.
Today has been declared by the Peanuts website and movie to be National Franklin Day (#FranklinDay), and we Peanuts fans are celebrating Franklin’s historical first appearance in this beloved comic strip. Please help us spread awareness of this important bit of cultural history by sharing or tweeting this article using the hashtag #FranklinDay!
Fun “Franklin Facts”:
- -THE PEANUTS MOVIE will be Franklin’s first appearance on screen since 1999.
- -Franklin has been voiced by 19 actors throughout the years. He will be voiced by Mar Mar in THE PEANUTS MOVIE.
- -Franklin is an excellent dancer – he is shown b-boying (aka breakdancing) in several of the show’s specials.
- -Ice hockey is Franklin’s favorite sport. He is shown practicing in many of the comic strips.
- -Franklin is a very close friend of Charlie Brown.
- -Franklin is the only character in Peanuts to never have said an unkind word to Charlie Brown.