Charles Schulz's Letter About Democracy, Discovered 50 Years Later

4 min
Joel Lipton with the letter that he recently rediscovered, sent to him by 'Peanuts' creator Charles Schulz. (Sharon Lipton)

In 1970, students in a fifth-grade class at Hawthorne School in Beverly Hills were assigned to write a letter to someone they admired, asking them "What makes a good citizen?"

Joel Lipton, 10 years old at the time, wrote to Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz.

Fast-forward to this past February, when Lipton and his wife were cleaning out their closet. "And she pulled out a box and started going through some photos," Lipton says today. "And between some old photos was this letter. I said, 'Oh, wow, there's the Charles Schulz letter!'"

Lipton remembers getting a response from the famed cartoonist, typed on official stationery from his Sebastopol studio, and hanging it on his bedroom wall with thumbtacks. But he was amazed when he re-read Schulz's letter almost 50 years later, and realized how prescient it was.

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"Dear Joel," the letter reads. "I think it is more difficult these days to define what makes a good citizen then it has ever been before. Certainly all any of us can do is follow our own conscience and retain faith in our democracy. Sometimes it is the very people who cry out the loudest in favor of getting back to what they call ‘American Virtues’ who lack this faith in our country. I believe that our greatest strength lies always in the protection of our smallest minorities. Sincerely yours, Charles M. Schulz."

"I'm sure it went way over my head as a kid, what he said in the letter," Lipton tells me. "But I think now, in the time we're living in politically, in this country... what he said about the people who hide behind American virtues, and about protecting our smallest minorities, I knew that could speak to a lot of people. To see that this came from this man, 50 years ago, and how important those words are today."

Lipton posted the letter on Facebook, and before he knew it, it spread widely. At press time, it's been shared over 12,000 times.

One of the many people who came across the letter is Jean Schulz, widow of Charles "Sparky" Schulz. "I continually find comic strips that could have been written for today’s audience," Jean wrote upon learning of the letter.

But a letter to a fan about the complexity of democracy—was that normal? While talking to me on the phone, Jean Schulz acknowledges that it is, in fact, relatively special.

"I couldn't believe it," she says. "We get a lot of people who will tell us that they wrote to Sparky and Sparky answered. But this one... the answer, it could have been written today."

Jean adds that it's rare to find Schulz answering a fan so thoroughly. Most letters were routine, cordial responses. "This says what needs to be said now," she adds.

As for Lipton, he's donated hi-res scans to the Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, and is glad that a piece of paper he kept for so long has resonated so widely.

“I'm kind of shocked at what's happened with this letter," Lipton says. "I'm amazed, and surprised, and thrilled that it's gotten this kind of attention.”

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