How The ‘Peanuts’ Comic Strip Got Its 1st Black Character

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It was April of 1968, and the United States was in the grip of racial turmoil such as it had seldom seen before. On April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King was shot as he stood on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. In response, riots had broken out in more than a hundred American cities. The outlook for racial harmony in the country looked bleak.

But some important positive events were taking place that month as well. On April 11, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which made housing discrimination based on race unlawful. And on April 15, a white Los Angeles schoolteacher, the mother of three, sat down to write a letter to a cartoonist.
A suburban schoolteacher tries to improve race relations.

That schoolteacher, Harriet Glickman, was disturbed by the racial upheaval that was shaking the country, and wanted to do something about “the vast sea of misunderstanding, fear, hate and violence” that caused it. She believed that at a time when whites and blacks looked distrustfully at one another from across a wide racial divide, anything that could help narrow that gap could provide an immensely positive service to the nation.

So, she wrote a letter to Charles M. Schulz, author of the Peanuts comic strip. Syndicated in hundreds of newspapers around the country, Peanuts was the most popular and influential newspaper comic strip in history, read by millions of people every day. The outlook of many of those millions was inevitably influenced by their daily vicarious excursions into the world of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, and the rest of the Peanuts gang. But since the inception of the strip in 1950, that world had been exclusively white.

Harriet Glickman thought that needed to change. She was convinced that with the cultural clout enjoyed by the Peanuts strip, if it portrayed white and black kids interacting amicably together, that would set a positive tone that could help reshape the perceptions of whites and blacks toward one another in the real world. In a letter that is now displayed in an exhibit at the Charles Schulz museum, she said:

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

I’m sure one doesn’t make radical changes in so important an institution without a lot of shock waves from syndicates, clients, etc. You have, however, a stature and reputation which can withstand a great deal.

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Charles Schulz responds sympathetically but negatively to the idea of adding a black character to Peanuts
Perhaps surprisingly, Charles Schulz replied quickly to Glickman’s request. On April 26, he sent her the following note:

Dear Mrs. Glickman:

Than you very much for your kind letter. I appreciate your suggestion about introducing a Negro child into the comic strip, but I am faced with the same problem that other cartoonists are who wish to comply with your suggestion. We all would like very much to be able to do this, but each of us is afraid that it would look like we were patronizing our Negro friends.

I don’t know what the solution is.

Far from being discouraged by Schulz’s negative reply, Harriet Glickman saw in it a ray of hope. She wrote again to Schulz, asking for permission to show his letter to some of her African American friends and get their reaction. “Their response may prove useful to you in your thinking on this subject,” she wrote. Schulz replied,

I will be very anxious to hear what your friends think of my reasons for not including a Negro character in the strip. The more I think of the problem, the more I am convinced that it would be wrong for me to do so. 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.

Glickman must have been elated at Schulz’s willingness to at least consider including black characters in his strip. She had also contacted another nationally syndicated cartoonist, Allen Saunders, who wrote the Mary Worth strip. Saunders believed 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.” Against that background, Schulz’s openness to at least thinking about inserting a black character into his strip must have been refreshing.

A determined Harriet Glickman overcomes Schulz’s qualms
Glickman contacted several African American friends, and secured letters that she forwarded to Schulz. One mother of two wrote:

At this time in history, when Negro youths need a feeling of identity; the inclusion of a Negro character even occasionally in your comics would help these young people to feel it is a natural thing for Caucasian and Negro children to engage in dialogue.

True to his word, Schulz thought about what the letter writers had to say, and was reassured. On July 1 he wrote to Glickman to inform her that he had taken “the first step,” and that the strips published during the week of July 29 would have something “I think will please you.”

That week the comic strip featured a story line in which Charlie Brown’s sister Sally had thrown his beach ball into the sea. Then something that was, for the time, radical and ground breaking occurred:

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His name was Franklin. And he came into the strip without fanfare, and without any notice or comment concerning his race. He and Charlie Brown struck up a friendship just like any two kids who meet on the beach might do.

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It turns out that Franklin lives in a different neighborhood on the other side of town. Interestingly, he goes to the same school as Peppermint Patty, and plays center field on her baseball team. So, he and Charlie Brown find that they have a lot in common. They have such a good time together on the beach that Charlie Brown invites Franklin to come and stay overnight at his house. “We’ll play baseball, and build another sand castle,” Charlie tells him.

Franklin’s advent causes a reaction
Although Schulz did everything he could to keep Franklin’s introduction into the strip as low key as possible, people definitely took notice. Newspapers and magazines featured articles about the new Peanuts kid. Most reactions were positive, but some were decidedly negative.

November 12, 1969

United Feature Syndicate

220 East 42nd Street

New York, N.Y. 10017

Gentlemen:

In today’s “Peanuts” comic strip Negro and white children are portrayed together in school.

School integration is a sensitive subject here, particularly at this time when our city and county schools are under court order for massive compulsory race mixing.

We would appreciate it if future “Peanuts” strips did not have this type of content.

Thank you.
Said Schulz in an interview,

I finally put Franklin in, and there was one strip where Charlie Brown and Franklin had been playing on the beach, and Franklin said, “Well, it’s been nice being with you, come on over to my house some time.” Again, they didn’t like that. Another editor protested once when Franklin was sitting in the same row of school desks with Peppermint Patty, and said, “We have enough trouble here in the South without you showing the kids together in school.” But I never paid any attention to those things.

Some Southern newspapers refused to run the strips featuring Franklin, and that made the cartoon’s distributor nervous

Schulz recalled a conversation he had with Larry Rutman, president of the United Features syndicate.

I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin—he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, “Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?”

The negative reactions to the new Peanuts kid were ironic because Schulz very deliberately did not focus attention on Franklin’s race. Charlie Brown never seemed to notice that Franklin was black. The only time race was ever mentioned in the strip, as far as I’m aware, was this episode (November 6, 1974) with Peppermint Patty:

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Some people took Peppermint Patty’s jibe about the lack of black players in professional hockey as some kind of racist expression. To me it’s just the opposite. Patty feels comfortable expressing a perceived fact of life that she can use in her dispute with Franklin, but it’s not intended as a putdown toward him as a person.

A different, cruder approach
In his handling of race, Schulz was far more subtle (and a lot more sensitive) than, for example, Hank Ketcham, the writer of the Dennis the Menace strip. Ketcham’s May 13, 1970 cartoon, intended, as he said, “to join the parade led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” offered a character deliberately modeled on Little Black Sambo. In that depiction, Ketcham demonstrated an almost unbelievable lack of awareness of how offensive such an image would be to African Americans:

Many newspapers refused to run Ketcham’s cartoon, and some of those that did, like the Cleveland Press, were forced to issue an apology the next day.

As he feared, Schulz is criticized as being condescending

Though Franklin was in no sense offensive in the way Ketcham’s Sambo image was, Schulz didn’t escape criticism from some African Americans and others. Not because Franklin represented some negative stereotype, but because he was too good.

Schulz understood the tightrope he had to walk because of earlier offensive portrayals of blacks in the media. So he made a deliberate choice not to give Franklin any of the negative traits that plagued the other Peanuts characters. “Franklin is thoughtful and can quote the Old Testament as effectively as Linus. In contrast with the other characters, Franklin has the fewest anxieties and obsessions,” he said.

To some critics, having an African American character who was virtually perfect was patronizing. As Berkeley Professor John H. McWhorter put it, “Schulz meant well. But Franklin was a classic token black.”

But Clarence Page, an African American columnist for the Chicago Tribune was, in my opinion, more perceptive:

Let’s face it: His perfection hampered Franklin’s character development…

But considering the hyper-sensitivities so many people feel about any matters involving race, I did not blame Schulz for treating Franklin with a light and special touch.

Can you imagine Franklin as, say, a fussbudget like Lucy? Or a thumb-sucking, security-blanket hugger like Linus? Or an idle dancer and dreamer like Snoopy? Or a walking dust storm like Pig Pen? Mercy. Self-declared image police would call for a boycott. If Schulz’s instincts told him his audience was not ready for a black child with the same complications his other characters endured, he probably was right.

From a character perspective, Franklin is the best of the Peanuts troop. He is the only one who never criticizes or mocks Charlie Brown. And when he finds Peppermint Patty crying because she’s being required to stop wearing her beloved sandals at school, Franklin’s sympathetic reaction is, “All I know is any rule that makes a little girl cry has to be a bad rule.” As one observer put it, “Franklin proved to be wise and dignified and has never done anything he should have to apologize for.” I think he can be forgiven those faults.

The addition of Franklin to the Peanuts family made a difference

Franklin was a recurring member of the Peanuts cast of characters for three decades. He would appear in a story line, then not be seen for a while. His last appearance in the strip was in 1999, the year before Schulz died and the strip ended (it’s still going strong in reruns). But both in newspapers and in animated Peanuts specials on television, Franklin made his mark as a valued and beloved member of the Peanuts family. And just as Harriet Glickman hoped, by simply being there, one of the gang, no different from the others, he helped blacks and whites see one another with different eyes.

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*Originally published on Hubpages.

 

Where Is The White Women “Stop Saying Racist Things” Committee?!

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Lately, a lot of White women have been making a lot of ignorant comments lately about African Americans & I can’t figure out what they must’ve been thinking! Do they not realize how ridiculous they sound? They are essentially making a big mess for their publicist to now clean up, all while inciting their African American audiences.

First, Giuliana Rancic, wife of Bill Rancic the 1st time winner of NBC’s The Apprentice, made a stupid comment about popstar Zendaya’s hairstyle at the Oscars. Zendaya, a Disney childstar, is half African American and half White. At the awards show she chose to wear her hair in thick dreadlocks, making her look very chic-bohemian.

She wore a champagne-colored silk gown with off the shoulder straps to her first ever Academy Awards. To complement the slinky gown, the actress and singer, who likes to wear wigs and often switches up her hairstyles, showed off a crown of thick dreadlocks. Vogue recently called the singer “one part Lisa Bonet, one part Venus de Milo, and all very grown up,” and many deemed the mature look a highlight of the night, while others called her a style star to watch (including us!).  But Giuliana Rancic didn’t agree with the general consensus.

“I feel like she smells like patchouli oil… or maybe weed,” the host said on air about Zendaya’s hair.

Who says that? Excuse me, who says that out loud?! Social media immediately erupted in reaction to Rancic’s comment, with many saying she was both ignorant and racist for thinking (and saying) what she did. Why on earth would you stay something so ridiculous based on your very limited exposure to women of color with different hairstyles?!

Zendaya’s often met with confusion about her changing looks, but the articulate young woman has always responded to the unenlightened with an educated comeback about why she chooses to wear wigs. Interestingly, no one questions when white women like Katy Perry or Lady Gaga change their locks with different wigs (which is almost every day), but it’s pointed out every time Zendaya makes a drastic change within a short period of time.

In response to Rancic, Zendaya posted an impassioned and lengthy soliloquy on Instagram. “There is already harsh criticism of African American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair,” she wrote. “My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.”

Guiliana, you need to make a hair appointment at a Black salon so you can really “smell” our hair.

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And just recently, a White news reporter from Fox news based out of Cleveland, Ohio made a very ignorant statement about Lady Gaga’s Oscar performance. While recapping the awards show, Kristi Capel showed a clip from Lady Gaga’s Sound of Music medley performance and explained that she’s used to a different kind of Gaga performance. Now that’s not such a bad thing, but it’s what she compared Lady Gaga’s traditional music to that was offensive. Watch below -

If you didn’t know that the word “jigaboo” is offensive, you have no business being a professional reporter. And to think that the African American man sitting next to her had to keep a smile on his face, despite her ignorant remarks. I felt sorry for him.

And last but not least, let’s not forget about the comments made by Patricia Arquette backstage at the Oscars.

“It is time for us. It is time for women … It’s time for all the women in America, and the men who love women and all the gay people and people of color we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

It’s demoralizing to feel like you aren’t paid what you’re worth. It’s worse to know that other people you work with who do the same job are rewarded for it when you aren’t. Arquette’s absolutely correct that women are not paid equally in Hollywood. But the wage gap in America extends far beyond the film industry .

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, African American women ONLY make about 80% of what a White woman makes for the same job. So if you feel bad making less than your White male counterparts, imagine how we feel making that much less than you do.

What Arquette said backstage, and the way many people took her comments, is that people of color and gay people need to drop their causes and struggles and turn their focus to the problem of wage disparity, to the problems that affect her, as a white woman. This undertone, that white women’s issues are the important ones, has been the source of tension and anger among feminists and their allies for decades. HELLO?!??? Does she not read the news, turn on the television or have any friends of color?

Patricia, the struggle for African American women is real and we certainly don’t need you asking for us to elevate White women even more, when we are still wayyyy behind you.

Patty, honey, Black women don’t owe you a thing!

If I’m Such A Great Woman, Why Haven’t I Met Anyone Else Great?

Wow. Where do I start? I’m 42, and have never been married, and I guess that I have been dating idiots, or men who are not even dating material for the last 10 years. People always ask me why I am still single, I get all the popular comments, like “Oh, that’s a shame, still single at your age”. It’s ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with me, I’m athletic, been told I am attractive, outgoing, and I enjoy sports, and all sorts of out door activities, and have a great circle of friends, so why after all this time have I not met anyone? My last serious relationship was back in college! I’ve dated on and off for a few months to a year, only to have things crash and burn for one reason or another. What am I doing wrong? I’ve tried the online dating, only to become seriously jaded by it all. I do have an open mind, and have even considered meeting and dating guys I normally would not. But nothing ever comes from it. Do I give up? I’m tired of friends telling me that when I least expect it, I will meet someone great, well, I have not been expecting it, and it never came. What now? :(

Lauren

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Dear Lauren,

I’m reminded of a story that Rich Gosse, the founder of AmericanSingles, once shared with me. It was an amazing response to how he dealt with skeptical press inquiries about his new business model.

“What kind of loser (I’m paraphrasing here) would go to an online dating site to meet someone?” the press would ask.

To which Rich would reply: ‘Well, there are a number of people out there who are socially awkward. There are a number of people who are somewhat weak and needy. There are a number of people who are so desperate for companionship that they’d do anything to avoid being alone. I call these people ‘married people’.”

I thought that was a brilliant answer. After all, there’s no special skill for getting married. Buy a ring, take a vow, and you’re married. It’s why I’ve never once worried about my qualifications to give dating advice. I don’t suddenly get smarter if I propose to my girlfriend. And if she dumped me, I wouldn’t suddenly get dumber.

All of this is me saying that there’s nothing wrong with being single. … Despite the title of my second book, Why You’re Still Single: Things Your Friends Would Tell You If You Promised To Get Mad, being single is a fine state of affairs. I’ve been that way for 35 years and frankly, I’m a little anxious about getting married.

That said, most single people (including myself) DO want to get married. Which is why questions like Why You’re Still Single and “Why He Isn’t That Into Me” are supremely relevant. And since the age-old answers like “I’m picky,” “I just haven’t met the right guy,” and “Men suck” aren’t leading us to a desired conclusion, everything I write is designed to create a greater level of self-awareness in how we are complicit in our own fates.

Shining the light on myself, I’ve definitely been too picky at times. I’ve been difficult and argumentative at other times. I’ve been in dire financial and career straits at other times. Not surprisingly, now that my career as a dating coach is in order and my head is on straight, I’m more open to giving and receiving love.

So what’s your blind spot? I couldn’t tell you, but I know there’s something there that you’re not seeing. Read this post from a few months back and you’ll hear yourself, Lauren. It’s from another amazing 42-year-old woman, who can’t fathom why she hasn’t put it all together. You seem to be more self-aware, in that you’re claiming to have an open mind about dating. So that’s a start.

But I think the greatest thing keeping single people single is that they don’t truly make an effort to change things. They say they do, but they don’t really DO anything about pursuing love.

Think about dating as a job hunt. This is the core metaphor driving my first book, and a guiding principle of my friend Rachel Greenwald’s book as well. When we’re unemployed, we do everything in our power to find work. Yet when we’re single, we sort of hope things will work out. You said it yourself. “It’ll happen when I least expect it.” No! It’ll happen when you create it. So what are you doing to create it?

Are you telling your friends to set you up with single eligible guys?

Are you going to singles events – parties, trips, cruises – or at least doing activities that have single men in attendance?

Are you taking online dating as seriously as you could be?

Have you gotten a new photo?

Have you a one-of-a-kind essay?

Have you signed up for a six-month subscription on a big dating site?

Have you been searching for and initiating contact with men?

Have you been giving men second chances on dates?

Have you considered hiring a matchmaker or a http://www.evanmarckatz.com/coaching/?

If you’re not doing all of these things, you’re not doing enough. Yes, it’s great when the universe provides a cute, attractive, successful, intuitive, funny, kind, emotionally available man at your doorstep. But since this hasn’t happened in 42 years, what makes you think it’s gonna start now?

Listen, I don’t know you from Adam, which is why any advice I can give you is a bit scattershot. But I can tell you this:

Happiness studies have shown that happy people are the ones whose goals and actions are aligned. So if a guy is a people person, but works as a security guard by himself for eight hours a night, it should come as no surprise that he’s not all that happy.

So ask yourself: are your goals and your actions aligned?

Your goal: You want to be married.

Your actions thus far: ???

If love is truly more important than anything else in the world, maybe you should start living your life like it. Take action and change can happen. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of magical thinking.

Dating

*Originally published on Evan Marc Katz.