Was Charles Schulz a Racist? All Depends on Your Perspective

Was Charles Schulz a racist? Well, it all depends on your perspective.

Was Charles Schulz a racist?

Yesterday my cousin Jason asked if I’d seen this meme, which was created from using a still from The Peanuts Thanksgiving television special that originally aired in 1968. We got into a discussion about the Peanuts creator, the late Charles M. Schulz. I immediately defended Schulz by saying he wasn’t a racist, despite how this cartoon appears. “It all depends on perspective,” I told him.

Jason responded with reason, “That’s a good point. However, we as Black folks watched these cartoons and I did realize there was only one Black character. So, although progressive for the times, it still had a subliminal effect on everyone that watched it.”

And I agree, but accusing Charles Schulz of racism is a stretch without having all the facts in hand.

I made the mistake of clicking on the image, which took me to a Facebook page exclusively for Black people. Response after response folks vilified Charles Schulz, accusing him of racism. The problem is that without context about what was going on at the time, along with the background of how Franklin even became a Peanut, what we have is despite the progressiveness of Charles Schulz, long after his death people of color vilify him.

Here’s an example of the comments:

Charles Schulz a racist?

Was Charles Schulz a Racist or Maybe Was He a Progressive Man Who was Actually an Activist?

Was Charles Schulz a racist? I certainly get why it’s easier for many PoC to jump on the bandwagon and assume based off this meme alone that Charles Schulz was, but let’s look at what led up to the Thanksgiving television special behind the meme.

In April 1968, a Los Angeles schoolteacher named Harriet Glickman wrote to Charles Schulz about his Peanuts comic strip.

was Charles Schulz a racist

 

Why is this significant? Mrs. Glickman gives us a clue in the opening of her letter. Dr. King had been assassinated less than two weeks earlier. Other very significant things to consider before thinking this letter is, well, insignificant and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Mrs. Glickman was a White woman, meaning, someone who had privilege (especially in the 1960s) and had no reason to make such a request … and yet she did. She didn’t know what kind of person was on the receiving end of that letter. Was Charles Schulz a racist and that’s why he wasn’t including a Black (then called Negro), character in the Peanuts comic strip or was it simply a sign of the times? 

Before pondering that, consider the expression, Sign of the Times. What was taking place in the United States and abroad that could influence Charles Schulz’s decision not to have a “Negro” character in the Peanuts comic strip?

Let’s look at a few:

The Civil Rights Movement was nearing its end, having achieved some basic rights for Negros (by no means definitive, but it was a start). Laws may change but this doesn’t mean people’s perceptions and ideologies do so at the same speed.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 to integrate public schools (Brown vs. The Board of Education), some states, like Alabama, Virginia and Oklahoma,  were slow to embrace the change. (Reluctantly, they finally did in 1963.)

If you are part of an interracial couple, you already know that while interracial marriage was legal in many states prior to 1967, because there were 16 holdout states, Virginia being one of them, Mildred and Richard Loving took their case all the way to the United States Supreme Court and won. This is why on June 12 of every year, we celebrate Loving Day.

For some perspective, it was 9 months before Mrs. Glickman’s wrote her letter that interracial couples nationwide could legally marry. Well, there’s an exception. Alabama held on as long as they could and didn’t ban their anti-miscgenation laws until the year 2000!

South Africa was in in its 24th year of Apartheid. Apartheid only ended in 1991.

Was Charles Schulz a racist

Katherine Hepburn, Joanna Drayton and Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Following the nationwide legalization of interracial marriage, the extremely controversial movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? with Sidney Poitier and Joanna Drayton opened (in December 1967). It was the first featuring an interracial couple and if you’ve never seen it, the parents of Joanna Drayton’s character lost their minds!

Was Charles Schulz a racist

Television’s first interracial kiss: Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner on Star Trek’s episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” It aired on November 22, 1968.

Television’s first interracial kiss hadn’t yet even occurred.

All of the above are very adult themes and each one to major opposition by White Supremacists and racists. Imagine now the idea of a Negro character joining an all-White ensemble in a children’s cartoon strip! It’s “bad enough” that adults have to grapple with the idea of whether to expose themselves to these themes but now imagine racist parents trying to explain why their beloved Peanuts had a Negro child in it. Do they stop reading the comic strip to their kids / allow their kids to stop reading it? These are decisions that have to be made and not under the backdrop of today’s standards, but under the backdrop of what’s going on around the world and people’s views about integration.

Maybe now people can begin to realize the tremendous chutzpah Mrs. Glickman had and now the pressure she has placed on Charles Schulz—the beloved creator of the most popular comic strip of its time.

As you read through the following mail exchange (no email, my friends) and see for yourself. Based on the ultimate response, was Charles Schulz a racist?

Was Charles Schulz a racist

 

And Mrs. Glickman’s reply:

Was Charles Schulz a racist?

And Charles Schulz’s reply:

Was Charles Schulz a racist?

Obviously considering it, Charles Schulz received a letter in early June 1968 from man named Kenneth C. Kelly, a “Negro” friend of Mrs. Glickman. In Mr. Kelly’s letter he reassures Schulz that by adding a Negro character to the Peanuts comic strip it won’t come off as condescending and moreover, he would not receive any criticism from the “Negro” community.

Was Charles Schulz a racist?

While it seems like nothing happened quickly, keep in mind it’s all about how long things take by mail at a time when people didn’t have email or even fax machines.

Given this, it didn’t take long for Charles Schulz to make up his mind. He wrote Mrs. Glickman back. It’s pretty clear her request and Mr. Kelly’s letter made big impressions on Schulz.

Was Charles Schulz a racist?

True to his word, Schulz introduced us all to a character named Franklin. However, rather than make a big deal out of things and call attention to himself, like all other new editions to the Peanuts gang, Franklin just appeared one day.

Was Charles Schulz a racist?

And the followup appeared in newspapers across the U.S. the next day.

Was Charles Schulz a racist?

Not only did Franklin appear on the scene and ask Charlie Brown if this was his ball, he made a more impressive sand castle than Charlie Brown had made. Charlie Brown immediately liked Franklin and asked him to come over and spend the night. Does this sound like a racist to you? Well, you’d have to be a fan know that Charlie Brown was Charles Schulz—shy, introverted and very unsure of himself.

was Charles Schulz a racist

So was Charles Schulz a racist? I suppose it depends on two things: not having all the relevant facts in hand and your perspective. In case you care, Snopes weighed in on the matter on Christmas Day 2015.

Was Charles Schulz a racist?

Charles Schulz was never shy about crediting Harriet Glickman for suggesting he add a Negro / Black character into the Peanuts gang. He made these letters available through his museum. And He also sent Mrs. Glickman an autographed edition of the very first strip that included Franklin.

Was Charles Schulz a racist?


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Published on: July 25, 2017

Filed Under: Voices of the Community

Views: 3894

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7 Responses to Was Charles Schulz a Racist? All Depends on Your Perspective

  1. Avatar Jason says:

    Great article Cuz. Thanks to you, I have a new perspective of Charles Schulz. However, there is still that lingering question. Why is Franklin sitting by himself on one side of the table? Is that just a coincidence? Also, as time moved on and society started to see more POC mixing, it would have been nice to see additional POC introduced.

    • Avatar Sarah Ratliff says:

      Thanks cuz!!

      Ah good questions. What you see as by yourself, White people saw as completely audacious and unacceptable–kind of like the Cheerios commercial. 🙂

      Good question on the other one. I believe Franklin had a girlfriend at some point, I’ll confirm this. Thanks for reading and replying! <3

  2. Avatar Bruce M Grant says:

    ‘White privilege’ is a stereotypical, racist lie as despicable as anything that has ever been said or done to vilify any other entire race, color or creed.
    It is a calculated leftwing attempt to instill an unearned and undeserved guilt on people who have no connection to or role in the institutional racism of decades past.
    I reject the existence of ‘white privilege’ and refuse to accept guilt for things I do not think or have never done.

    • Avatar Sarah Ratliff says:

      That’s fine. You can reject it but that doesn’t mean it’s a racist lie.

      That White people do benefit from being on top in the United States, in nearly all South American countries, South Africa and even Asia where you’re the minority is a fact. That you admit to there being institutionalized racism in the the past (but can’t acknowledge it still exists) is a bit of a contradiction on your part.

      And nobody asked you to feel guilty. You mentioned that all by yourself. Anyway, you can reject anything you want. Hell, reject that there’s no climate change and the world is round. It doesn’t mean they both aren’t facts.

    • Avatar THOT says:

      And, with that statement you have shone a great light on depths of the ideas of “white supremacy”. While you distance yourself from your family, inclusion for Blacks in to your sickness means we have to accept responsibility for the things you’ve done to us and others (Natives) as well. But of course your not concerned with that because you didn’t do it.

  3. Avatar Sheila stone says:

    Schultz never had much control over the tv shows, and did not regard them as canon in any way.

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