How Franklin Became Peanuts’ First Black Character, Thanks to a Caring Schoolteacher (1968)

Like many chil­dren of the 70s, I was wild for Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, and had the mer­chan­dise to prove it. I was a Snoopy girl, for the most part, but not averse to receiv­ing items fea­tur­ing oth­er characters—Linus, Schroed­er, the caus­tic Lucy, Pig­Pen, and, of course, Char­lie Brown. My father was a suck­er for the com­par­a­tive­ly butch Pep­per­mint Pat­ty, and Mar­cie, the bespec­ta­cled hang­er-on who referred to Pat­ty as “Sir.”

But there was one char­ac­ter I don’t remem­ber see­ing on any Peanuts swag in 1970s Indi­ana…. Actu­al­ly, that’s not accu­rate. I don’t remem­ber any Shermy sweat­shirts. Female sec­ond bananas like Vio­let, the orig­i­nal, i.e. non-Pep­per­mint Pat­ty, and Frie­da were also under­rep­re­sent­ed, despite the latter’s oft-men­tioned nat­u­ral­ly curly hair.

The char­ac­ter I’m think­ing of nev­er became a major play­er, but he was notable. Ground-break­ing even. Can you guess?


Thats right: Franklin, the only African-Amer­i­can mem­ber of the Peanuts gang.

(An African-Amer­i­can tod­dler, Milo, below, had a 17-strip run in 1977 when Char­lie Brown had to skip town after exact­ing his revenge on the kite-eat­ing tree… That’s it. Poor Franklin.)


Franklin owes his exis­tence, in large part, to Har­ri­et Glick­man, a white teacher from LA, who found let­ter writ­ing one of the few forms of activism in which a moth­er of three children—all square­ly with­in the Peanuts demographic—could ful­ly par­tic­i­pate. Raised by lib­er­al par­ents to con­sid­er her­self a glob­al cit­i­zen, and to speak out against injus­tice, she wrote the authors of sev­er­al lead­ing com­ic strips in the wake of Dr. Mar­tin Luther King’s assas­si­na­tion in April, 1968.  Would the cre­ators of Peanuts and Mary Worth con­sid­er intro­duc­ing a black char­ac­ter into the mix, as a first step on what Glick­man fore­saw as a “long and tor­tu­ous road” toward a future cli­mate of “open friend­ship, trust and mobil­i­ty” between the races?

Mary Worth’s Allen Saun­ders declined, appar­ent­ly say­ing that he shared Glick­man’s sen­ti­ments but feared the syn­di­cate would drop his strip if he fol­lowed her sug­ges­tion.

Schulz didn’t exact­ly leap at the chance, either, say­ing that he was in the same boat as the oth­er sym­pa­thet­ic car­toon­ists who’d begged off. What he feared wasn’t so much the syndicate’s response, as the sus­pi­cion that he might be seen as “patron­iz­ing our Negro friends.”

Glick­man per­sist­ed, ask­ing his per­mis­sion to share his let­ter with some of her “Negro friends,” all par­ents. Per­haps they could offer some thoughts that might induce the car­toon­ist to say yes.

One of these friends, Glickman’s neigh­bor, Ken Kel­ly, prompt­ly fired off his own let­ter to Schulz, writ­ing:

I’d like to express an opin­ion as a Negro father of two young boys. We have a sit­u­a­tion in Amer­i­ca in which racial enmi­ty is con­stant­ly por­trayed.

Like Glick­man, he felt that a “casu­al day-to-day scene” fea­tur­ing a non-white char­ac­ter would give his sons and oth­er chil­dren of col­or a chance to see them­selves reflect­ed in the strip, while pro­mot­ing “racial ami­ty” to read­ers of all races.

Glick­man expressed hope that Peanuts would even­tu­al­ly grow to include more than one black child:

Let them be as adorable as the others…but please…allow them a Lucy!

With­in weeks of receiv­ing Kelly’s let­ter, and just over two months into Glickman’s let­ter-writ­ing cam­paign, Schulz reached a deci­sion. He wrote Glick­man that she should check the paper the week of July 29, 1968.


Franklin, his skin tone indi­cat­ed by close­ly set diag­o­nal lines, made his debut in a bathing suit, return­ing Char­lie Brown’s run­away beach ball. The encounter took three days to play out, dur­ing which Franklin and Char­lie Brown form an alliance of vaca­tion­ing chil­dren whose usu­al play­mates are else­where. It would seem that the major dif­fer­ence between them is that Franklin’s dad is in Viet­nam. Obvi­ous­ly, a lot of thought went into their casu­al dia­logue.

Benign as Franklin was, his pres­ence sparked out­rage. Some South­ern read­ers cried foul when he showed up in the same class­room as Mar­cie and Pep­per­mint Pat­ty. Oth­ers felt Franklin wasn’t black enough.

Ulti­mate­ly Franklin nev­er achieved A‑list sta­tus, but he did res­onate with cer­tain read­ers, notably William Bell, a diver­si­ty offi­cer work­ing with the Cincin­nati Police Depart­ment.

And while Franklin t‑shirts have shown up on the racks, it was only a cou­ple of years ago that he joined the realm of offi­cial­ly licensed action fig­ures, as a Char­lie Brown Christ­mas fig­urine.

Vis­it Mash­able to see repro­duc­tions of Glick­man and Schulz’s cor­re­spon­dence. And watch the video above to hear more about her upbring­ing and anoth­er com­ic that fea­tured black char­ac­ters, Date­line: Dan­ger!, a col­lab­o­ra­tion between Saun­ders’ son John and artist Al McWilliams.

Via Mash­able

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Charles Schulz Draws Char­lie Brown in 45 Sec­onds and Exor­cis­es His Demons

Watch the First Ani­ma­tions of Peanuts: Com­mer­cials for the Ford Motor Com­pa­ny (1959–1961)

Read Mar­tin Luther King and The Mont­gomery Sto­ry: The Influ­en­tial 1957 Civ­il Rights Com­ic Book

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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Comments (5)
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  • Jim Rose says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to cast asper­sions on Schulz by putting “negro friends” in quotes twice as “negro” was an accept­able term until the ear­ly ’70s.

  • Ayun says:

    Jim —

    It was not my intent to cast asper­sions.

    I find it inter­est­ing which words peo­ple use to describe peo­ple of oth­er skin col­ors, and which to describe peo­ple of the same skin col­or as theirs…also these words’ evo­lu­tion over time. Favor. Dis­fa­vor. Sec­ond guess­ing. Con­fu­sion. Nuances.

    Wit­ness “trans­gen­der”, a word very much in the news.

    I chose to use direct quo­ta­tions from the let­ters as a way of high­light­ing the awk­ward­ness we may feel look­ing back from the remove of near­ly half a cen­tu­ry .

    Your com­ment prompt­ed me to do a lit­tle dig­ging on the twi­light of a word that has­n’t quite fall­en from our lex­i­con. Per­haps you will find this arti­cle as inter­est­ing as I did.

    Respect­ful­ly yours,

    Ayun Hal­l­i­day

  • Ronny says:

    This was a real­ly inter­est­ing arti­cle. Thank you.

  • TerriK says:

    I nev­er noticed Franklin so much or that a char­ac­ter was black. I am 58. It looks like Schultz was hav­ing Char­lie Brown apol­o­gize for past white’s actions against blacks. Why did he have to bring pol­i­tics in it? Was this car­toon real­ly for kids. I thought so when grow­ing up. Now I won­der.

  • Paul says:

    This com­ment from the teacher is all wrong and in read­ing of Schultz you’ll see how Franklin got start­ed after Mar­tin Luther got mur­dered!!! The name Franklin came from a friend of Schultz that served in Viet­nam who had a son named Franklin, thus the name, Franklin was used for this char­ac­ter!!!
    A well known knowl­edge!!!
    Schultz served in WW 2 in ARMY!!!

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