By Troy Tieuel
Special to the NNPA from the LA Watts Times
Following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, a school teacher named Harriet Glickman, and a few of her friends, took it upon themselves to petition comic writer and creator of the popular Peanuts comic strip Charles M. Schultz for more characters of color, a bold move that resulted in the inclusion of a character named ‘Franklin.’
“In thinking over the areas of the mass media,” wrote Glickman in the first of several correspondences between her and Shultz, “which are of tremendous importance in shaping the unconscious attitudes of our kids, I felt that something could be done through our comic strips and even in that violent jungle of horrors known as Children’s Television.”
“I had a sense of, ‘I should do something, somebody should do something,’” she said.
“Of course, I can’t do anything big, and so it came to be that I would write to some cartoonists, and I wrote to Mr. Shultz, and asked him if he would put a Negro child in the script.”
The well written letter moved Schultz to consider her request, but as any rational thinking person during the 1960s would consider, the racism and post Civil Rights Era attitudes gave him pause.
“It occurred to me today,” Glickman goes on to write later in her letter, “that the introduction of Negro children into the group of Schultz characters could happen with a minimum of impact.”
Eventually the thought provoking and persuasive reasoning caused Schultz to change his views and that summer, ‘Franklin’ was introduced along a beach speaking candidly to Charley Brown. The strip, although seemingly innocent and uneventful, was revolutionary in that it showed an African American character, a child, speaking intelligently and honestly to a white character, even criticizing him.
Forty seven years later, the Peanuts Comic line is still going strong and with the upcoming movie, titled ‘Peanuts’ Glickman meets the young actor from Compton, named ‘Mar Mar’ that voices the character ‘Franklin’ that she helped to inspire.
The Peanuts movie is a 3-d animated story about a child named Charlie Brown, and his dog Snoopy, who both go on quests. According to the official movie website, Snoopy goes up against his nemesis the Red Baron, while Charlie Brown tries to win the affection of the Little Red-Haired Girl, who just moved to the neighborhood.
Mar Mar, who plays Franklin, is an articulate and intelligent young man. He is very opinionated about his role in society, as well as what his character means to popular media and the world.
“This is Harriet Glickman,” explain Mar Mar upon their meeting, as if he were in class and was asked a question by the teacher. “She actually advocated for there to be African American characters in the Peanuts world.”
“I could not have imagined a more perfect Franklin, than Mar Mar in every way. As a person, a thoughtful young man and as my new best friend,” said Glickman who has done several interviews with the child actor for the promotion of the Peanuts film.
“I go to school and know about history and how tough it was during that time because Martin Luther King was assassinated and I know that what she did was brave, because it was a hard time and people were angry, sad, mad and for her to advocate for there to be an African American character during such a hard time in our nation’s history is a real honor,” Mar Mar said.
“People have said to me, ‘That was brave,’” added Glickman, “And I said, ‘that didn’t take any courage. The courage comes from little six year old Ruby Bridges who had to walk into a school with white adults throwing things at her, spitting at her, and the courage of her parents to actually have their child go through this.”
The feature film will be animated with a realistic portrayal that sticks to the imagery originally depicted in the comic strip. The Peanuts film opens in theaters November 6, but the Peanuts franchise celebrated its first African American character with a ‘Franklin Day’ on July 31.
“I would like people like Mar Mar, to open up a comic strip and see themselves and see a classroom with black and white kids sitting in the classroom together, and hopes that would be a cultural change,” Glickman said.
For more information on the Peanuts movie, go to www.peanutsmovie.com/ or use the hash tag #FranklinDay.