WASHINGTON • In the July 31, 1968 edition of the Peanuts cartoon strip, Charlie Brown loses his ball at the beach. It is returned by an African-American boy.
Yesterday, Franklin, the first African-American to appear in Peanuts alongside Charlie Brown and Snoopy, turned 50.
He joined the iconic line-up during a summer of race riots and unrest in the wake of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King's assassination on April 4 that year.
At the time, Peanuts ran in hundreds of newspapers, exposing the foibles of humanity through the shenanigans of a group of children and one crafty beagle.
Franklin's arrival made a major splash - and earned mainly praise.
It also made Los Angeles teacher Harriet Glickman very happy. On April 15, she had written to Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, suggesting he include an African-American character in the famous comic strip, which had been running since 1950. "Since the death of Martin Luther King, 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 wrote.
The letter hangs in the Charles M. Schulz Museum in California.
Several days later, Schulz replied that he would like to do so, but "each of us (cartoonists) is afraid it would look like we are patronising" African-Americans. Undeterred, Ms Glickman wrote back with an offer to run the idea past some of her African-American friends. She told Schulz of their approval.
At the beginning of July 1968, he wrote to Ms Glickman, telling her to keep an eye on the comic strip in the week starting July 29.
The response from readers and newspaper editors was largely positive, Schulz later recalled, although some black readers saw him at times as a little bland.