Franklin gets the love he deserves in new ‘Peanuts’ special

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin

In “Welcome Home, Franklin,” Franklin Armstrong and Charlie Brown are partners in the Soapbox Derby Race. Credit: YouTube.

Franklin was introduced to Charlie Brown and the world in 1968, during the Civil Rights Movement. While people fell in love with the Peanuts comic strip and broadcast specials, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving became criticized for the scene where Franklin was sitting alone on one side of the dinner table, while most of the white characters sat together on the other side. He even had to use a foldable lawn chair, while Charlie Brown, Sally Brown, Peppermint Patty, and Snoopy had regular dinner chairs. 

Well, now Franklin gets to be the star. Apple TV+ premiered Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin in February. The origin story shows Franklin moving to town, struggling to fit in, and becoming friends with Charlie Brown as they team up for a race. 

Adrien Sebro focuses on Black pop culture as a media studies professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and he says the Thanksgiving seating arrangement became a huge issue during the era of social media, memes, and gifs. 

“So to hear that this new Franklin origin story was coming out, a lot of folks saw that as … a wrong finally being righted. I think it was hugely important to a lot of members of popular culture, and the Black community specifically, to see this inclusion of Franklin as a character,” he tells KCRW. “Because so often we see in popular culture — these token Black characters pushed to the side. And to see Franklin have some depth that's offered for the first time, [it] was very inspiring.”

He explains that in the new special, Franklin has trouble making and keeping friends since he’s been moving around so much with his military dad. 

“That was his biggest conflict. Everything else, [he’s] well adjusted. … He's witty, he's quick, he has style. He loves jazz music … this old soul that he has. … But he doesn't know how to interact with other kids because he's always on the move. So for him, these other kids, they seem normal in their own environments. … He's just trying to make himself seem normal, but he tries so hard, and he pushes people away. So it's like this endearing thing about him … he’s just someone who wants to be liked. Charlie Brown … is known as this loser kind of character, people make fun of him a lot, so [he’s] the perfect match for Franklin … ‘who's the outsider that I can feel like I'm just as cool with or cooler than, but also he'll accept me for my awkwardness?’”

He continues, “And so the character and how they developed him, and how these nuances of Black history that he knows … beyond his years was fascinating to me, but still felt very real.” 

Sebro notes that his research of the 1973 Thanksgiving special yielded no explanation for why Franklin was given a lawn chair. Still, he says it’s tough to deem that as malicious intent. 

“These can be moments of reflection of probably inherent biases that may have taken place, where you would see Franklin as an outside member of this … friend group, whereas he is a part of it, and this new film is actually making that clear.”

What prompted Charles M. Schulz to create a Black character in the first place? Harriet Glickman, a white school teacher, suggested it in a letter she wrote to the Peanuts creator. 

She told The Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, “I was a teacher at the time that I wrote to Charles Schultz. The fact that he actually read my letter, and paid attention to it, and thought about it, I was very impressed. That letter was the result of my whole life. It was seeing racism in this country, knowing that no matter what, there was ugliness and violence. It was after the assassination of Martin Luther King and the frustration and the anger. I said to my children, ‘This is a lesson. One person can make a difference. It’s a very little difference, it’s not earthshaking. But it’s a difference.”

Sebro says Glickman made the suggestion some 10 days after MLK was fatally shot in Memphis, Tennessee (April 4, 1968). That same year, many other civil rights leaders were assassinated, including Robert F. Kennedy. 

“It became this year that's known in infamy as a reconstruction year. … A lot of television programs, especially public affairs television, shows [were] coming to rise: Julia as the first Black sitcom to star a woman since the 1950s. So 1968 was this year of holding accountable these television programs, or in this case, this comic book and later show, holding them accountable to creating a world … that we see in real life. [It’s] very similar to Stan Lee and Marvel, where the Black Panther character came about in 1966 — the Black Panther Party. So these moments in the 60s made artists realize how important it is to speak about the cultural moment, and with that is having characters that reflect reality.”

However, the debut of Franklin came with public pushback. Robin Reed, the actor who voiced Franklin in the Thanksgiving special, told MSNBC in 2021, “There was a point where Franklin was introduced in the comic strip that someone in the South, one of the places where his strip was syndicated, said he didn’t want it in there. And Charles Schultz said, ‘That’s fine. If you’re not going to do it, then I’ll pull my comic strip, and you won’t have it in your market.’ And obviously, he won that particular argument.” 

Now in animation broadly, Sebro acknowledges that adequate representation exists, pointing to shows like Doc McStuffins and The Boondocks. 

“The animation world is meant for this idea of the other, this idea for the unexpected, this idea of things that are simply only unimaginable. So really, when it came to introducing Blackness to animation, it was actually much easier than … reality television shows or films. Because animation sells on this idea of a relief from the reality, as an escape. So now we see Blackness in these various ways on animation, and it doesn't really seem new anymore or something different. But in that way, I think it's appreciated. And I think that when it becomes norm, that's when things are in the right direction.” 



  • Adrien Sebro - media studies professor, University of Texas at Austin