“Welcome Home Franklin” Highlights the First Black Peanuts Character 

By Claire Wilson

February 20, 2024

On Friday, Apple TV released "Welcome Home Franklin", a Peanuts special starring Franklin Armstrong, the first black character to appear in the comic strip. Franklin was introduced to Peanuts more than 50 years ago, and has since become a beloved character in the comic. The special dives into Franklin’s story, giving him more depth as a character, but not everyone agrees that his character gives Peanuts the diversity it lacks. 

Franklin came into the picture at a critical time in American history. Shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Glickman, a California school teacher, wrote to Schulz, urging him to integrate his comic strips. She believed that the unconscious bias of children could be shaped through media, and that introducing black characters into the strip could foster compassion and understanding between children of different races. According to the Charles M. Schulz Museum, Schulz wrote back, saying that he “had thought about it but was afraid that whatever he did would be placating and not sincere and authentic.” Glickman spoke to her black friend, Kenneth C. Kelly, about Schulz’s dilemma, and he wrote to Schulz, saying that including black characters “would suggest racial amity in a casual day-to-day sense… We have too long used Negro supernumeraries in such unhappy situations as a movie prison scene, while excluding Negro supernumeraries in quiet and normal scenes of people just living, loving, worrying, entering a hotel, the lobby of an office building, a downtown New York City street scene.”

(Photo credit: Apple TV)

On July 31, 1968, Franklin Armstrong appeared for the first time in Peanuts. In the strip, Franklin returns Charlie Brown’s beach ball, and they strike up a conversation. The beach scene was “a historical meeting and a statement,” writes the Associated Press, “many public beaches, like other public facilities such as schools, swimming pools, theaters and restaurants, were segregated at the time.” While the introduction of Franklin gave many readers hope, it also “brought the strongest criticism I can remember,” Schulz told Penthouse Magazine in a 1971 interview. “There weren’t many letters," he added, “but they were quite vehement.” Despite the backlash, Schulz continued to include Franklin in the comics.

(Photo credit: Charles M. Schulz Museum)

In addition to giving Franklin a more developed story, the special also aims to make reparations for backlash in response to A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. In this movie, Franklin sits by himself on one side of the Thanksgiving table, which caused many viewers to think that he wasn’t fully accepted by the group. Sean Ellard of CBR explained that Schulz “had to work to engage Franklin in his comics and stories because he didn't have as many overt character quirks as the other kids. So, writing a scene in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving in which Franklin's chair breaks provided him with a moment in the spotlight.” Franklin had to be sitting on his own side of the table to be seen clearly, but this seems like a flimsy excuse for placing the only black character by himself on a rickety lawn chair. In an attempt to correct this misperception, in the new special Franklin’s new friends ask him to come sit with them on their side during a pizza party celebration. 

(Photo credit: Apple TV)

In the special, Franklin and Charlie meet on the beach, as a nod to the original beach ball comic, and the two work together to build a car for the neighborhood soap box derby race. Like Franklin’s very first comic strip, the Apple TV special comes at just the right time; Black History Month. It features original music by Jeff Morrow, inspired by jazz musicians such as Chuck Berry, John Coltrane, and Billy Preston. But not everyone is happy about the messaging in the show. In his article It’s Flagrant Tokenism, Charlie Brown!, Troy Patterson writes, “making cogent statements about American society is contrary to its ambitions; Peanuts is not the place to explore the dynamics that it is here pretending to explore. Franklin’s lack of depth is an essential feature of a figure fated never to be even skin deep.” This largely reflects the overall criticism of Franklin; that he lacks the quirks and personality of the other characters because he is intentionally portrayed as a stable character from a good home who gets good grades and never gets into trouble. This characterization opts for a politically correct depiction of a black boy, instead of allowing him to be a multidimensional character with flaws and weaknesses like the other characters.  

In many ways, "Welcome Home Franklin" is a step towards more developed character development for Franklin, and a nice way for the comic to celebrate Black History Month. It pays homage to many of the earlier comics featuring Franklin, but because of his flat and underdeveloped personality, many feel that since the beginning, Franklin has never really been part of the Peanuts.