Many of us looked forward to a ‘Peanuts’ special every big holiday. But one in particular riled a lot of people over its handling of race.
A new Peanuts special will rectify a problem some of us never noticed, but others definitely did. Specifically, the special, titled Welcome Home, Franklin, will focus on a lesser-known character: Franklin Armstrong. He was the sole African American character in the main cast of the popular comic strip and film series. Just in time for Black History Month, this new special will correct a wrong from a half-century ago.
When I was a kid, there were two specials I looked forward to every year. The first was It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! It focused on Halloween and the obsession of the character of Linus of a fictional Santa Claus-like character known as “The Great Pumpkin.”
The second was A Charlie Brown Christmas, in which the kids put on a Christmas pageant. Charlie Brown told the story of the real meaning of Christmas. He also found himself mocked for bringing home the world’s skimpiest Christmas tree.
Those two I remember fondly. Somehow, I missed the Peanuts special that aired in between: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
Others wish they could forget one particular scene
Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz introduced the character of Franklin in 1968 shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A Los Angeles school teacher’s letter inspired Franklin’s creation.
Harriet Glickman wrote Schultz, believing his comic strip could, as Schultz’s wife put it in her blog, “change American attitudes on race.”
That summer, Franklin appeared for the first time.
Five years later, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving aired for the first time. In one scene, Charlie Brown hosts his friends for their own version of Thanksgiving dinner. The menu consists of toast, popcorn and jelly beans. Charlie sits at the head of a long table. All of his friends sit along one long side of the table on screen-right…with the exception of Franklin. The film’s sole Black main character sits alone on screen left, the opposite side of the table, in a less sturdy lawn chair.
As Yahoo put it a few years back, “Even though he’s part of the group, he’s still distinctly separate from them.”
If I had seen that movie as a kid, I’d like to think I would have noticed the awkward seating. But I’m not sure how many times the wide shot appeared in the original. I hope I’d notice. But it might have gone right past me.
The controversy over the seating went seemingly unnoticed — or at least not talked about — for decades. Only in the past several years did the discussion begin appearing on social media.
Someone finally listened
The voice actor who portrayed Franklin back then, Robin Reed, told MSNBC back in 2021 that Franklin’s seating arrangement wasn’t the focus back then.
“It’s so very easy to get offended or upset,” he said, as reported by The Washington Post. “But we have to remember that at that time, that actually represented progress.”
But more progress comes 50 years later just in time for Black History Month. A new Peanuts special, Welcome Home, Franklin, will do more than correct that mistake of the past. It gives him his own story, a background story. It explains how he ended up moving to town, how he joined the Peanuts gang and how he and Charlie Brown became friends.
The program airs on Apple TV+ and the official trailer even shows the correction to the Thanksgiving scene:
For too many of us, it might have been easy to remain unaware of the original depiction or even the controversy that sprung up over it.
Too often, that’s exactly how more modern racism works. It’s more subtle. Sometimes, we can easily not notice it, even when it ought to be more obvious than it is.
Maybe one of the lessons of Black History Month is that it’s never too late to make amends and prompt a little healing.