Franklin, a 'Peanuts' Character Created in the Civil Rights Era, Turns 47

Franklin from the 'Peanuts' comic strip (Courtesy of Charles M. Schulz Museum)

On Friday, we said Happy Anniversary to Peanuts character Franklin, who first met his curly-haired friend named Charlie Brown, or "Chuck" to some, on a beach some 47 years ago.

Franklin was the first African American character to be created by Charles M. Schulz for his long-running cartoon strip. The young man's first appearance in the comic was on July 31, 1968 - during the middle of the Civil Rights era and right after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The following is an edited interview with Cesar Gallegos, archivist for the Charles M. Schulz Museum located in Santa Rosa.

Let's start with how Franklin came about - it's 1968 - in the middle of the Civil Rights era, what happens next?

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A school teacher from Sherman Oaks, California named Harriet Glickman she writes a letter to Charles Schulz asking him to  integrate the script. Initially she writes to Schulz telling him that it's very important and a mainstream comic like Peanuts would be a great platform to introduce somebody like Franklin, an African American character.

Here is Glickman's first letter to Schulz where she asks him to introduce African American children into Peanuts.
Here is Glickman's first letter to Schulz where she asks him to introduce African American children into Peanuts. (Courtesy of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center)

Shulz was initially very hesitant because he didn't want to be patronizing and he wasn't sure if he could write to such a character.

Schulz writes Glickman a letter showing concern for introducing an African American character.
Schulz writes Glickman a letter showing concern for introducing an African American character. (Courtesy of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center)

Can you share any of the correspondence between Harriet Glickman and Charles Schulz?

"It occurs to me today that the introduction of negro children into the group of Schulz characters could happen with the minimum of impact. The gentleness of the kids, even Lucy, is the perfect setting.

The creation of Franklin happened really fast. What was the public reaction when his character came out?

Overall the public reaction was so positive. The syndicates sent Schulz a large assortment of letters that we actually have in our collection and all very positive. There was a few mentions from newspapers that wrote to Schulz and said we won't publish your strip if you continue to have Franklin in the Peanuts comic but Schulz held his ground.

What does the last letter look like from Schulz back to Glickman? 

Schulz writes Glickman to tell her he has taken her advice.

Schulz writes Glickman to tell her he has taken her advice.

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