Today marks a milestone for the “Peanuts” comic strip. Franklin Armstrong, Charlie Brown’s best friend, appeared for the first time in newspapers 47 years ago as the strip’s first African-American character.
Franklin’s debut came after a Los Angeles-area school teacher wrote to “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz and urged him to include an African-American character in his widely popular comic. Harriet Glickman wrote to Schulz in 1968 regarding the lack of integration in “Peanuts” and believed the popular comic strip could help influence American attitudes on race.
The request began a three month correspondence and conversation between the teacher and the cartoonist before Franklin even saw a pencil point on a sketchpad. Franklin made his debut in the comic strip on July 31st, 1968. He meets Charlie Brown on the beach and the two grade-school boys bonded over family and baseball. Franklin would appear in the strip for three consecutive days.
While favorably received by many, some readers especially in the South, spoke out on Franklin forcing some newspapers to refuse to feature the series in its comics section. Not buffeted by the criticism, Schulz continued to feature Franklin in the strip and allowed him to attend school with the rest of the “Peanuts” kids. When some newspapers threatened to drop “Peanuts,” Schulz pushed back and said rather than change the strip, he would quit. In the end they left Charlie Brown, Franklin, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and the rest of the group alone.
Franklin’s favorite sport is ice hockey and he is featured practicing his moves on the ice in many of the strip’s panels. He is also quite the dancer showing off his break dancing skills in several of the “Charlie Brown” television specials.
Franklin made his first animated appearance in the 1973 television special “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” He will be featured in the upcoming 20th Century Fox animated flick “The Peanuts Movie” marking his first big screen appearance since 1999.
Glickman who has sort of become Franklin’s surrogate mother, says today she is proud to talk about her friendship with Schulz which blossomed with the arrival of the comics’ first African-American character. Ever since Franklin debuted she has been collecting Franklin memorabilia ranging from plush figures, to socks and t-shirts. The mother of two-grown children, Glickman says she thinks of Franklin as her third child.
Besides the prized possessions of the letters she exchanged with the “Peanuts” creator, today she is especially proud of the new found friendship with the young voice-actor who brings Franklin to life in “The Peanuts Movie.” Thirteen-year-old Mar Mar says look for Franklin to be seen throughout the new animated feature offering up precious advice to his buddy Chuck. While not originally aware of the genius of his character, Mar Mar says through his relationship with Glickman he has learned so much about the quest to have racial equality in the comic strip adding that is an honor to give life to such an important character.
“The Peanuts Movie” arrives in theaters on November 6th.