“When Franklin Armstrong appeared in Peanuts, returning a beach ball Charlie Brown had lost in the ocean.”

From a New York Times obit by Daniel E. Slotnik on Harriet Glickman:

Harriet Glickman, who in 1968 persuaded Charles M. Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts,” to add an African-American character to his roster of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang, died on March 27 at her home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. . . .

Ms. Glickman was a former schoolteacher in California when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, shocking the nation and heightening her concern about what she saw as toxic racism that permeated society.

She began thinking of ways the mass media shaped the unconscious biases of America’s children, she later wrote, and “felt that something could be done through our comic strips.”

She wrote to several cartoonists, including Mr. Schulz, urging them to add black characters to their strips.

At the time “Peanuts,” which had been appearing since 1950, was syndicated in about 1,000 newspapers and reached tens of millions of readers. . . .

Ms. Glickman recognized that loyal “Peanuts” readers might be nonplused, or even annoyed, by a new character. So she wrote a letter to Mr. Schulz in April 1968, shortly after Dr. King’s assassination, that made a reasonable case for adding a black character while acknowledging the risks involved.

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

Mr. Schulz replied later that month. Many cartoonists, he wrote, “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.”

Ms. Glickman asked Mr. Schulz if she might share his letter with some black friends to get their input, and he agreed. One of those friends, Kenneth Kelly, a neighbor with whom Ms. Glickman protested housing discrimination, wrote that adding a black character, without great fanfare and “in a casual day-to-day scene,” would allow black children to see themselves in popular culture and “suggest racial amity.”

Mr. Schulz responded to Ms. Glickman at the beginning of July that she should look out for a strip to be published toward the end of the month.

On July 31, 1968, Franklin Armstrong appeared in “Peanuts” for the first time, returning a beach ball Charlie Brown had lost in the ocean and then helping him build a sand castle. Nothing aside from the color of his skin set him apart from the other children in the strip.

Many readers wrote in support of the new character. But others were livid, including at least one newspaper editor in the segregated South who wrote that he was incensed when Franklin appeared in school with the other characters.

Franklin continued appearing in new “Peanuts” strips, and the criticism soon quieted. Mr. Schulz died in 2000.

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