Franklin, the first black member of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts gang, made his debut in July 1968. His presence came about through the efforts of Los Angeles schoolteacher Harriet Glickman, who wrote Schulz several letters in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination arguing that the inclusion of black characters in the most popular comic strip in America would be a positive thing. Here is her initial letter to Schulz:
After some back and forth between Schulz and Glickman, Franklin made his first appearance in the strip.
Franklin’s introduction was part of a five-day sequence featuring Sally tossing away Charlie Brown’s beach ball and Franklin rescuing it. In some ways, this seems an aggressive bit of integration — many American public beaches, while no longer legally segregated, were still de facto segregated at the time. In other ways, the strips suggest what might be seen today as an excess of caution; of the twenty panels of the series, Franklin is in ten panels and Sally is in eight, but never is Franklin in the same panel as the white girl. Franklin would not reappear for another two and a half months, when he came for a visit to Charlie Brown’s neighborhood. He was somewhat lighter skinned here, which seems to be less a matter of trying to make him acceptable to the readers and more a matter of cutting back on shading lines which were overpowering his facial features. Franklin’s job in this series was to react to the oddness of the neighborhood kids, and that was a precursor to what would be his primary role in the strip as a whole. Perhaps due to excessive caution, Franklin was never granted any of the sort of usual quirks that define a Peanuts character, the very sort of mistake that Glickman was warning about when she called for one of the black kids to be “a Lucy.”
His inclusion made news nationally and upset many people, particularly in the South. Schulz had a conversation with the president of the comic’s distribution company:
I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin — he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, “Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?”