If there were ever a list of fictional beach meetings that made significant cultural impacts, then this would likely be on it.
On July 31, 1968, in the famous “Peanuts” comic strip created by Charles M. Schulz, Charlie Brown and Franklin met on a beach.
But when Franklin retrieved Charlie Brown’s lost beach ball, it was more than just two friends meeting for the first time.
The appearance of Franklin broke a color barrier on the popular comic strip, considering it marked the introduction of the first black character to Schulz’s legendary creation.
The letter that started it all
In April of that year, Schulz had received a letter from a school teacher in Los Angeles named Harriet Glickman, who suggested that Schulz add a black character to the strip, according to the website linked above.
Racial tension was running high back then, with riots, desegregation in schools across the nation and the assassination that year of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Schulz wrote back to Glickman, saying he appreciated the letter and suggestion and liked the idea, but was concerned he would be patronizing.
“I would be very happy to try, but I am sure that I would receive the sort of criticism that would make it appear as if I were doing this in a condescending manner,” Schulz wrote in his initial reply to Glickman.
But then one of Glickman’s friends, Kenneth C. Kelly, wrote to Schulz saying the introduction of a black character would “ease my problem of having my kids seeing themselves pictured in the overall American scene. Secondly, it would suggest racial amity in a casual day-to-day sense.”
After that, Schulz introduced Franklin.
Charlie Brown and Franklin eventually built a sandcastle together, with Charlie Brown asking if Franklin’s family was there at the beach with him.
“No, my Dad is over in Vietnam,” Franklin said in the strip.
Charlie Brown then replied: “My Dad’s a barber. He was in a war, too, but I don’t know which one.”
Eventually, Franklin’s mother calls for him, and Charlie Brown shouts to him to ask his mother if he can spend the night at Charlie Brown’s house so they can play baseball and build another sand castle.
Franklin next appeared in the strip in October 1968, when he came to Charlie Brown’s home, looking for him.
While Charlie Brown wasn’t immediately at his house, he met Lucy, Linus and the rest of the gang.
A controversial, but successful impact
Franklin became a fixture in the “Peanuts” strip and cartoons from there, although there was some controversy.
Schulz said he received a letter from someone who said they didn’t like having Franklin shown in the same school with the other characters, while others suggested that Schulz was racist because of one scene around a Thanksgiving table where Franklin is sitting by himself on one side of a table in a lawn chair, while everyone else is seated together on the other side.
Despite some objection, Schulz was mostly lauded for his creation.
After his death in 2000, “Saturday Night Live” actor Tim Meadows portrayed Franklin on the show and paid tribute to Schulz by saying. “Charles Schulz understood (that) regardless of race, we’re all the same. We have heads as large as our bodies and our mouths disappear when we turn sideways.”