Peanuts is celebrating the 47th anniversary of the beloved comic strip's first African-American character by declaring today National Franklin Day.
It's a bit of promotion tied to the upcoming 3D-animated feature The Peanuts Movie, but it casts a welcome spotlight on Charlie Brown's longtime friend, who was introduced by Charles M. Schulz on this day in 1968.
The creation of Franklin Armstrong was inspired by Los Angeles school teacher Harriet Glickman, who wrote to Schulz in April 1968, just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., urging the cartoonist to introduce black children into the popular strip in an effort to help influence attitudes about race. That began an earnest three-month correspondence, displayed last year at the Charles M. Schulz Museum, culminating in the introduction of Franklin on July 31, 1968.
Franklin initially appeared in three strips, where he meets Charlie Brown at the beach, before becoming a recurring character and a classmate of Peppermint Patty and Marcie. His introduction drew some complaints, with some newspaper edits refusing to run the series.
"I did get one letter from one southern editor who said something about 'I don't mind you having a black character, but please don't show them in school together.' Because I had shown Franklin sitting in front of Peppermint Patty," Schulz recalled in an interview with The Comics Journal's Gary Groth, included in Charles M. Schulz: Conversations. ""But I didn't even answer him."
The Peanuts website notes that Franklin may be the only character in the strip who's never said in unkind word about Charlie Brown. "Franklin is thoughtful and can quote the Old Testament as effectively as Linus," Schulz once said. "In contrast with the other characters, Franklin has the fewest anxieties and obsessions."
Franklin's first appearances are being rerun this week at Go Comics. The Peanuts Movie opens Nov. 6.