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How Franklin, The Black ‘Peanuts’ Character, Was Born

November 6, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. had been dead 11 days.

His assassination fresh on her mind, Harriet Glickman, a teacher raising three kids in suburban Los Angeles, sat down at her typewriter.

“Dear Mr. Schulz,” she wrote, “since the death of Martin Luther King, I’ve been asking myself what I can do to help change those conditions in our society which led to the assassination and which contribute to the vast sea of misunderstanding, hate, fear and violence.”

Mr. Schulz was Charles Schulz. Glickman thought the creator of the popular Peanuts comic strip could play a small part in promoting tolerance and interracial friendship by including a black character in his strip.

She sent off the letter, not expecting a reply.

Schulz did write back, to say he had considered her suggestion. But he worried that if he created such a character, black parents might think he was condescending to their families.

With Schulz’s permission, Glickman asked two of her black friends to send him some ideas on how to make a black character relatable.

A few weeks later, the cartoonist responded.

“You will be pleased to know that I have taken the first step in doing something about presenting a Negro child in the comic strip during the week of July 29,” Schulz said. “I have drawn an episode which I think will please you.”

Just like that, Franklin was born.

His debut, in 1968, drew praise from across the country, but also protest from Southern segregationists. Schulz kept Franklin but never developed him into as nuanced a character as the other Peanuts.

Still, Glickman said, his presence was remarkable in an era when the funny pages were overwhelmingly, if not completely, white.

This summer, Glickman hit the publicity circuit, promoting Franklin’s story alongside Marleik Walker, the 12-year-old actor voicing Franklin in The Peanuts Movie that opens Nov. 6.

“It just kind of feels right to have the person that advocated for there to be an African-American character in the Peanuts gang to sit with me,” Walker said.

For his part, Walker said he shared a lot of characteristics with Franklin — witty, smart, quick on his feet.

Glickman said the first time she met Walker, she knew he was the right actor to play Franklin.

“He’s perfect,” she said.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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