Guess Who’s Coming to ‘Peanuts’ - The New York Times
Dr. King’s assassination, on April 4, 1968, played a direct role in Franklin’s creation. Eleven days later, a Southern Californian named Harriet Glickman wrote to Mr. Schulz, introducing herself as “the mother of three children and a deeply concerned and active citizen.” In her grief, Ms. Glickman explained, she had been pondering “the areas of the mass media which are of tremendous importance in shaping the unconscious attitudes of our kids.” She then proposed an idea: “the introduction of Negro children into the group of Schulz characters.”
“I was acting on the feeling that maybe there was one little thing I can do,“ Ms. Glickman, who is now 91, told me in a recent interview. A civil rights and antiwar activist, she was shrewd to petition Mr. Schulz. “Peanuts” was at the peak of its popularity at the time, running in a thousand newspapers, with a devoted daily readership approaching 100 million. Mr. Schulz, as unassuming a man as he was, was a veritable godhead, revered in those divided times by Americans of all stripes.
Mr. Schulz wrote back to Ms. Glickman within two weeks, but only to tell her he couldn’t fulfill her request. He and his fellow white cartoonists, he said, were “afraid that it would look like we were patronizing our Negro friends.” Undaunted, Ms. Glickman sent another note, asking if she could share his letter with black acquaintances. Mr. Schulz assented, though he again expressed reluctance to introduce a black character into “Peanuts.”
Ms. Glickman wasted little time in enlisting her friend Kenneth C. Kelly, a black father of two, who told Mr. Schulz, essentially, to get over his anxiety.
“An accusation of being patronizing would be a small price to pay for the positive results that would accrue!” he wrote. Mr. Kelly suggested that Mr. Schulz begin with a “supernumerary” black character, a de facto extra, who “would quietly and unobtrusively set the stage for a principal character at a later date.” This cautious approach would serve the dual purpose of not burdening Mr. Schulz and “Peanuts” with the duty of making a Major Social Statement and presenting friendship between black and white children as utterly normal.
But in the context of the late ’60s, Franklin’s debut was indeed a Major Social Statement. Inevitably, a few newspaper editors in the South made noises of protest, but by and large, the reaction to Franklin was positive, particularly among black readers.