To wish you a Merry Christmas I thought I would share one of my all-time favorite moments from a Christmas special. Yes, Linus reciting the true meaning of Christmas from the Book of Luke in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is definitely a favorite of mine. But then there's this:
Though not warm and fuzzy, it puts a smile on my face every time. And besides, I know that later in the story his heart grows three sizes that day.
If you missed Part 1 of this Thanksgiving blog post, click here.
So how did the Peanuts’ Franklin’s character come about? In 1968 a white schoolteacher by the name of Harriet Glickman was upset by Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination and the racial turmoil gripping our country. Being a mother of three, she knew her children enjoyed comic strips. She decided to write to some cartoonists to ask if they could add some African American characters to their work – so black children can see themselves in a comic strip. To her surprise, she received two letters in response. One cartoonist wrote that he could not do so because he feared cancellation of his strip. The other response was from Charles Schulz, who was reluctant for another reason. He feared adding a black character would appear to be patronizing.
Harriet didn’t give up. With Schulz’ permission she shared his letter voicing his concerns with some of her African American friends, who wrote to him expressing their support of adding a black character to the Peanuts gang. This swayed Schultz’ decision. Despite a question from United Features Syndicate asking if he was sure he wanted to do it, to which Schulz replied, “either you print it as I draw it, or I quit,” Franklin made his debut on July 31, 1968. And you know what? Not only did Peanuts survive, it thrived.
I guess some people will read this story and still feel appalled that our country was once in a place where adding an African American character to a comic strip was a potential threat to a comic strip’s survival. But as I read this story, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of pride in my country and how far we’ve come. As a children’s book author and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrator’s, I know there is a huge demand for stories that feature ethnically diverse characters. There’s even a campaign, #weneeddiversebooks. The very thought that featuring a character of color in a comic strip or a story would lead to cancellation or backlash is a foreign concept these days. Isn’t that something to celebrate?
Charles Schulz had the courage to do what he thought was right, despite the potential backlash. And while there was some backlash, it wasn’t as much as many feared, and in fact he got a lot of support. Also, someone ordinary was moved to make a difference - an average schoolteacher who wrote the cartoonists not expecting a reply, and look what happened.
So back to Franklin and Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Do you watch the clip and choose to see racism? Or do you watch the clip and choose to feel good about America and the progress it’s made? Or do you watch the clip and see a bunch of round-headed kids eating a Thanksgiving feast that can only be prepared by a second-grade boy and a beagle that is way too smart for his own good?
I think I know what Martin Luther King, Jr. would want you to see. What do you think?
I’ve had a hard time getting into the holiday season this year. A combination of the recent terrorist attacks and the usual stress that comes with the holidays has made me feel kind of down. So the other day, when I confessed to my son how I’d been feeling, he suggested watching some Peanuts cartoons featuring Good Ol’ Charlie Brown. We watched “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” and I couldn’t help but wonder if the holidays would be simpler if we chose to serve the meal Charlie Brown style – toast, pretzels, jelly beans and ice cream sundaes. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind.
Leave it to Linus to give the Thanksgiving prayer, and I was struck at how refreshing his simple prayer was, telling a little about the first Thanksgiving where the pilgrims thanked God for the opportunity to create a new world with freedom and justice. Are there many shows these days that reflect such a positive message about America? I thought in honor of Thanksgiving, I’d post a clip from the cartoon on my blog, so I searched Youtube.
That’s when this blog post took a turn in a different direction.
I found the clip I wanted, and the first comment posted in the comments section was something to the effect of how Peanuts was racist, because Franklin (the first African-American Peanuts character) is sitting by himself across the table from the rest of the Peanuts gang.
Really? I watched and re-watched the clip, and sure enough, Franklin was sitting by himself. But was it meant to be racist? It’s interesting how I watched the clip seeing a positive message about America, where someone else watched the same clip and saw racism.
And I’ve got to wonder. How does that happen?
A friend of mine once said, “You’re born with skin color, but race is taught.” Boy, is that ever a true statement. If there’s one thing that being a parent has shown me firsthand, it’s that our children don’t see race. We might send them off to preschool and they might ask about someone that looks different from them, but they’re not seeing race, at least not until someone tells them to see it.
But back to poor Franklin, sitting by himself at Charlie Brown’s impromptu Thanksgiving Dinner. I was curious so I did some Googling about how his character came about, and discovered a story that gave me perspective, and inspiration, and made me proud of how far our society has come. Hopefully, you'll feel that way, too. Click here for Part 2.