A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ Racism Controversy, Explained

Published |Updated.

Mónica Marie Zorrilla

Franklin Armstrong got a seat at the proverbial and literal table in the summer of 1968 — mere weeks after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination — when beloved Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz introduced the Black character into the all-white fray of Charlie Brown’s inner circle.

Pretty soon, Franklin was chummy with Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Violent, Linus, Schroeder, Shermy, Pig-Pen, Frieda, Sally and even Lucy. But how he was drawn in relation to the rest of his Peanuts peers in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been scrutinized and subjected to heated ethical debates about racial representation on TV.

In the holiday special, Franklin arrives at Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving celebration along with Peppermint Patty and Marcie. The girls walk into the house, while Franklin gives Charlie a little dap on his way in. Charlie and Linus pull out chairs for Patty and Marcie at the table, leaving Franklin to sit by himself on the opposite side — and on a lousy lawn chair that was already the subject of Snoopy’s ire.


“Having [Franklin] on this long side by himself, you could interpret it that no one wanted to sit next to him,” Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences and professor of sociology and African American studies at UCLA, told Yahoo Life in November 2020. “Today this would not be acceptable. It really does speak to the need for more inclusive creators and storytellers behind the scenes who produce these images.”

Hunt’s thoughts on Franklin’s visual exclusion at Charlie Brown’s Friendsgiving feast have been echoed by countless others on social media, who feel that the sole Black character in Peanuts’ solitude during the celebration was animated intentionally and done so with malice:

“If y’all don’t think racism exist. Check out Charlie Brown…so you mean to tell me, no one wanted to sit by the lil black kid and why they give him the worse chair…. think about it… #staywoke …,” user @TheScorpioBaby wrote on Twitter, now known as X, on Nov. 22, 2018.


The origin story of Franklin Armstrong, Peanuts’ first Black character

Looking back on classic Peanuts cartoons and comics, Franklin was an innocuous character: a cheery boy who, unlike others in the Peanuts brigade, rarely made a fuss or caused tension among his friends. And even though Franklin was the new kid on the block, introduced to readers nearly two decades after the first Peanuts strip was published, he was effortlessly cool and well-liked among his peers, as well as a good student.

However, Schulz didn’t play it safe when he first brought Franklin into the Peanuts-verse, and his inclusion was — at the time — quite radical.

Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was killed on April 4, 1968. Shortly thereafter, schoolteacher Harriet Glickman wrote a letter to Schulz, urging him to include a Black character in Peanuts. By the end of July 1968, Franklin was giving Charlie Brown his beach ball back; it was a wholesome, family-friendly way to introduce Franklin to the Peanuts’ crew, while also making a statement about American segregation at beaches and pools.

This reportedly wasn’t done without a fight from the company that syndicated the Peanuts strips, prompting Schulz to give them an ultimatum: “Either you run it the way I drew it, or I quit.”

What other cartoonists say about the A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving controversy

The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving controversy has been making the rounds on the internet for years now, but conversations surrounding Black representation in media and entertainment got particularly prickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death in May 2020. Rather than ignore the controversy, the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center wanted the public to actively engage with the ethics of the Thanksgiving dinner scene. They invited a panel of prominent Black cartoonists (Elizabeth Montague, Bianca Xunise, Darrin Bell and Robb Armstrong) to discuss Franklin’s treatment in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’

‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’

© Provided by The Messenger

“I can’t believe how accurate that drawing is — I feel like I’m that dude on that side of the table to this day,” Armstrong, JumpStart creator and a close lifelong friend of the late Peanuts creator, remarked during the panel. “I know people are like, ‘That’s racist!’ First of all, Charles Schulz named that dude after me,” Armstrong affirmed, referring to Schulz’s special request in the ’90s to give Franklin his last name. “He is not a racist. He is a wonderful human being who decided to put Jesus on a CBS Christmas special. He wanted Franklin to be that, but he knew he didn’t have it in him. Franklin is still an underdeveloped character… but the guy knew his limits.”

Darrin Bell, Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the comic strips Candorville and Rudy Park, echoed Armstrong’s sentiments in the panel discussion and added that he felt that the place settings at Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving table were almost like a Rorschach test. “When I saw that image, my first thought was that Charles M. Schulz really wanted Franklin to be seen, and that Franklin was really important,” Bell said, noting that his perception was shaped by all of the other Peanut’s strips and specials, which he opined were “kind,” “inclusive” and “shined the light on the underdog.”

What those close to the Peanuts creator say about the controversy