‘Peanuts’ celebrates its first African American character

Following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, a school teacher named Harriet Glickman and a few of her friends, took it upon themselves to petition comic writer and creator of the popular Peanuts comic strip, Charles M. Schulz, for more characters of color, a bold move that resulted in the inclusion of a character named ‘Franklin.’

The Peanuts movie opens November 6.
The Peanuts movie opens November 6.

“In thinking over the areas of the mass media,” wrote Glickman in the first of several correspondences between her and Schulz, “which are of tremendous importance in shaping the unconscious attitudes of our kids, I felt that something could be done through our comic strips and even in that violent jungle of horrors known as Children’s Television.”

“I had a sense of, ‘I should do something, somebody should do something,’” she said.

“Of course, I can’t do anything big, and so it came to be that I would write to some cartoonists, and I wrote to Mr. Schulz, and asked him if he would put a Negro child in the script.”

The well-written letter moved Schulz to consider her request, but as with any rational thinking person during the 1960s, the racism and post-civil rights era attitudes gave him pause.

“It occurred to me today,” Glickman goes on to write later in her letter, “that the introduction of Negro children into the group of Schulz characters could happen with a minimum of impact.”

Eventually, the thought-provoking and persuasive reasoning caused Schulz to change his views, and that summer, ‘Franklin’ was introduced along a beach speaking candidly to Charlie Brown. The strip, although seemingly innocent and uneventful, was revolutionary in that it showed an African American character, a child, speaking intelligently and honestly to a White character, even criticizing him.

Forty seven years later, the Peanuts Comic line is still going strong and with the upcoming movie entitled Peanuts, Glickman met the young actor from Compton named Mar Mar that voices the character Franklin that she helped to inspire.

“I could not have imagined a more perfect Franklin than Mar Mar in every way. As a person, a thoughtful young man and as my new best friend,” said Glickman, who has done several interviews with the child actor for the promotion of the Peanuts film.

See an interview with Harriet Glickman and Mar Mar, plus clips of the movie below, courtesy of reelblack below: 

“I go to school and know about history and how tough it was during that time because Martin Luther King was assassinated and I know that what she did was brave, because it was a hard time and people were angry, sad, mad and for her to advocate for there to be an African American character during such a hard time in our nation’s history is a real honor,” Mar Mar said.

“People have said to me, ‘That was brave,’” added Glickman, “And I said, ‘that didn’t take any courage. The courage comes from little six-year-old Ruby Bridges who had to walk into a school with White adults throwing things at her, spitting at her, and the courage of her parents to actually have their child go through this.”

The feature film will be animated with a realistic portrayal that sticks to the imagery originally depicted in the comic strip.  The Peanuts film opens in theaters November 6,  but the Peanuts franchise celebrated its first African American character with a ‘Franklin Day’ on July 31.

“I would like people like Mar Mar to open up a comic strip and see themselves and see a classroom with Black and White kids sitting in the classroom together and hope that would be a cultural change,” Glickman said.

The Peanuts Movie opens November 6. For more information on “Franklin Day” or the movie, go to www.peanutsmovie.com or use the hashtag #FranklinDay on social media.

Thanks to Troy Tieuel, the NNPA and LA Watts Times for sharing this story with us.