In April 1968, Harriet Glickman — a Jewish teacher and mom of three — wrote a letter to Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz.
Glickman, the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants who lived in Los Angeles, felt compelled to write after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She wrote: “I’ve been asking myself what I can do to help change those conditions in our society which led to the assassination and which contribute to the vast sea of misunderstanding, fear, hate and violence.”
She continued, “As a suburban housewife; the mother of three children and a deeply concerned and active citizen, I am well aware of the very long and tortuous road ahead. I believe that it will be another generation before the kind of open friendship, trust and mobility will be an accepted part of our lives.”
She assured Schulz that “Peanuts is one of the most adored, well-read and quoted parts of our literate society.” Furthermore, her family loves Peanuts: “teen-age Kathy has posters and sweat shirts,” 10-year-old Paul is her “Charlie Brown Little Leaguer” and “has memorized every paper back book,” and 3 1/2-year-old Simon “has his own Snoopy which lives, loves, eats, paints, digs, bathes and sleeps with him.” Even Glickman and her husband “keep pertinent Peanuts cartoons on desks and bulletin boards as guards against pomposity.”
But then, she asks the cartoonist introduce black kids into the mix. She realizes that “one doesn’t make radical changes in so important an institution without a lot of shock waves from syndicates, clients, etc.” But appeals to Schulz’s “statue and reputation” that can “withstand a great deal.”
She concludes her letter with a simple plea: “I hope that the result will be more than one black child… Let them be as adorable as the others.”
Schulz responded a few weeks, telling her, “I appreciate your suggestion,” but he was worried it would look “patronizing” to black Americans.
Glickman replied, sending him letters from her black friends, imploring him that “their responses as parents may prove useful to you in your thinking on the subject.”
“Dear Ms. Glukman [sic], You will be pleased to know that I have taken the first step in doing something…”
And on July 31, 1968 — that’s 50 years ago! — Peanuts‘ first black character, Franklin, appeared. As Jewniverse points out, “There was no fanfare – he just walked up to Charlie Brown on the beach and asked, ‘Is this your beach ball?'”