When I read the fantastic story in the Washington Post about how Franklin -- the first character of color -- in the Peanuts strip changed comics history nearly 50 years ago, I felt heartened, hopeful, for the first time in a long while.
Photo Credit: Fox Animation & Blue Sky Studios.
These last 18 months in this county have been hard to swallow: the back-to-back killings of unarmed black men, women, and children; the egregious racial injustices jabbed into our ribs; the raw and relentless hate and violence bestowed on black bodies; and the excruciating pain of watching (often on video) as the very breath is choked from Black Lives. Hope is buried deep under horror and heartbreak.
And so when I read this WaPo story, one that delved into this country's history of racism, feeling something far removed from outrage or despair was refreshing, a relief.
What made the story so outstanding is layered. First, it pulled back the curtain on an important piece of behind-the-scenes history that most folks had no idea about. Second, it added more value to a cultural icon. And lastly, perhaps most important , it showed what it means to use your voice -- in whatever capacity -- to speak out against injustice and speak up for truth.
Both Peanuts creator Charles Schultz and Harriet Glickman -- the white, retired teacher who sent Schultz the letter that effectively birthed Franklin -- decided to stand up for what they believed in, stand up for what their hearts knew was right. It took courage for Glickman, so troubled by assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the stifling climate of racist violence, to move beyond sentiment and actually do something. She wrote a letter.
And Schultz, who could have rested back on it is what is convenience, instead used his reputation and immense influence to effect change. When faced with objections from the higher-ups about his strip introducing Franklin's character, Schultz said it with his chest: "Either you run it the way I drew it, or I quit."
"There is an awareness that nearly a half-century after Franklin was created, thereby integrating America’s beloved comic strip, he still resonates as not just a character, but also as a symbol of cultural illumination."
What's funny (not ha-ha) is how I grew up reading Peanuts comics and happily watching the Charlie Brown specials on TV, and simply thinking nothing about Franklin. Of course Franklin is there, he exists, he's in the mix. But I saw him as just another kid in the group. He just happened to look like me.
In my world, having a Franklin in Charlie Brown's crew was small and subtle, but ultimately major and important. Through him I saw a brown kid living a regular life and having adventures with his friends. He was folded into the full picture, not pushed to margins or -- worse -- erased altogether.
Now, as a mother raising a brown boy in America, I'm seeing Franklin with fresh eyes. He's come into finer focus, showing up as more than extra color on the page. Now, knowing what I know and what I've seen played out in real life, the fact that Franklin existed in the Peanuts universe represents the change that I hope we're moving toward: not a colorblind world, but a rich, colorful, reflective one.
Author of THE THUNDER BENEATH US. Journalist. Runner. Mother. Creator of Ms. Mary Mack. Living this life the best way I know how.
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