I loved the Peanuts growing up, in no small part because the relationships between characters—Lucy never let Charlie Brown kick that football; Sally wanted to make Schoerder her boyfriend at all costs; Frieda had beef with anyone or anything that threatened her naturally curly hair. But there's one major character who almost wasn't introduced to the comic strip series—had it not been for one Los Angeles schoolteacher. After Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968, Harriet Glickman started a letter-writing campaign to try to convince Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz to add an African-American character to the gang. It worked.
It wasn't easy though—when Glickman started writing to Schulz and other cartoon creators, asking them to start upon the "long and tortuous road" to "open friendship, trust and mobility" between the races, their response was hesitant at best. Schulz said he was afraid he'd lose syndication if he introduced a black character, and didn't want to be seen as "patronizing our Negro friends."
But Glickman kept writing, urging Schulz to one day add more than one black character ("Please... allow them a Lucy!"). Two months later, Schulz wrote to Glickman, telling her to be sure to read the paper the week of July 29, 1968. "I have drawn an episode which I think will please you."
Franklin appeared in his first comic strip on July 31, 1968 and two more in the following two days—first, he returns Charlie Brown's beach ball and then the two become fast friends, talking about baseball and their dads (Franklin's is fighting in Vietnam). After that, Franklin regularly appeared in the comics, hanging out with the gang and going to school with Peppermint Patty and Marcie.
Of course, some readers (especially in the South) opposed this new addition to the Peanuts gang, but Schulz did his best to ignore the critics, adding another black character in 1977.
Glickman retells the story of her correspondence with Schulz in an oral history project in the video above.