On the anniversary of his death we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a brilliant orator and hero who dedicated his life to the fight for civil rights. Celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by learning how six bold women were influenced by his actions, driving change and making history in their own right.
April 9, 1968: Coretta Scott King is pictured with her daughter, Bernice King, during the funeral of her husband, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
“On July 31, 1968, a young, black man was reading the newspaper when he saw something that he had never seen before. With tears in his eyes, he started running and screaming throughout the house, calling for his mom. He would show his mom, and, she would gasp, seeing something she thought she would never see in her lifetime. Throughout the nation, there were similar reactions.
What they saw was Franklin Armstrong’s first appearance on the iconic comic strip “Peanuts.” Franklin would be 50 years old this year.
Franklin was “born” after a school teacher, Harriet Glickman, had written a letter to creator Charles M. Schulz after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death outside his Memphis hotel room.
Glickman, who had kids of her own and having worked with kids, was especially aware of the power of comics among the young. “And my feeling at the time was that I realized that black kids and white kids never saw themselves [depicted] together in the classroom,” she would say.
She would write, “Since the death of Martin Luther King, ‘I’ve been asking myself what I can do to help change those conditions in our society which led to the assassination and which contribute to the vast sea of misunderstanding, hate, fear and violence.'”
Glickman asked Schulz if he could consider adding a black character to his popular comic strip, which she hoped would bring the country together and show people of color that they are not excluded from American society.
She had written to others as well, but the others feared it was too soon, that it may be costly to their careers, that the syndicate would drop them if they dared do something like that.
Charles Schulz did not have to respond to her letter, he could have just completely ignored it, and everyone would have forgotten about it. But, Schulz did take the time to respond, saying he was intrigued with the idea, but wasn’t sure whether it would be right, coming from him, he didn’t want to make matters worse, he felt that it may sound condescending to people of color.
Glickman did not give up, and continued communicating with Schulz, with Schulz surprisingly responding each time. She would even have black friends write to Schulz and explain to him what it would mean to them and gave him some suggestions on how to introduce such a character without offending anyone. This conversation would continue until one day, Schulz would tell Glickman to check her newspaper on July 31, 1968.
On that date, the cartoon, as created by Schulz, shows Charlie Brown meeting a new character, named Franklin. Other than his color, Franklin was just an ordinary kid who befriends and helps Charlie Brown. Franklin also mentions that his father was “over at Vietnam.” At the end of the series, which lasted three strips, Charlie invites Franklin to spend the night one day so they can continue their friendship.
There was no big announcement, there was no big deal, it was just a natural conversation between two kids, whose obvious differences did not matter to them. And, the fact that Franklin’s father was fighting for this country was also a very strong statement by Schulz.
Although Schulz never made a big deal over the inclusion of Franklin, there were many fans, especially in the South, who were very upset by it and that made national news. One Southern editor even said, “I don’t mind you having a black character, but please don’t show them in school together.”
It would eventually lead to a conversation between Schulz and the president of the comic’s distribution company, who was concerned about the introduction of Franklin and how it might affect Schulz’ popularity. Many newspapers during that time had threatened to cut the strip.
Schulz’ response: “I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin – he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, "Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?”
Eventually, Franklin became a regular character in the comic strips, and, despite complaints, Franklin would be shown sitting in front of Peppermint Patty at school and playing center field on her baseball team.
More recently, Franklin is brought up on social media around Thanksgiving time, when the animated 1973 special “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” appears. Some people have blamed Schulz for showing Franklin sitting alone on the Thanksgiving table, while the other characters sit across him. But, Schulz did not have the same control over the animated cartoon on a television network that he did on his own comic strip in the newspapers.
But, he did have control over his own comic strip, and, he courageously decided to make a statement because of one brave school teacher who decided to ask a simple question.
Glickman would explain later that her parents were “concerned about others, and the values that they instilled in us about caring for and appreciating everyone of all colors and backgrounds — this is what we knew when we were growing up, that you cared about other people … And so, during the years, we were very aware of the issues of racism and civil rights in this country [when] black people had to sit at the back of the bus, black people couldn’t sit in the same seats in the restaurants that you could sit … Every day I would see, or read, about black children trying to get into school and seeing crowds of white people standing around spitting at them or yelling at them … and the beatings and the dogs and the hosings and the courage of so many people in that time.”
Because of Glickman, because of Schulz, people around the world were introduced to a little boy named Franklin.” (Source: The Jon S. Randal Peace Page, Facebook)
Let us march on ballot boxes, march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.
Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.
Let us march on ballot boxes until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.
Let us march on ballot boxes until we send to our city councils state legislatures, and the United States Congress, men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.
Let us march on ballot boxes until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.
Let us march on ballot boxes until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.
These words come from the speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the conclusion of the 1965 march to Montgomery, Alabama. The march brought national attention to the issue of racial discrimination in voting. The Voting Rights Act, a landmark piece of Civil Rights legislation, became law just five months later.
Photographs, broadsides, and other materials related to Dr. King’s legacy are now on view in the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library reading room.
Bob Adelman. Martin Luther King Jr. marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama alongside Ralph Abernathy, James Forman, Jesse Douglas, and John Lewis. March 1965. New-York Historical Society.
Stephen Somerstein. Martin Luther King, Jr. seen from rear, speaking to crowd of 25,000 in Montgomery, Alabama. March 1965. New-York Historical Society.
On the evening of April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about how proud he was to be alive during the Civil Rights movement. Even though his dream of freedom and justice for all had not yet been achieved, Dr. King knew that someday, “we will get to the promised land.” The next evening, 50 years ago today, Dr. King was on his way to another speech when he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet. Though his life was over, his legacy lives on. You can learn more about Dr. King at Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Georgia, Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., by the National Park Service.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh, 1967
Thich Nhat Hanh first wrote to Dr. King in 1965. They met a year later in 1966, during one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s trips to the US, to call for peace. In January 1967, Dr King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize. They meet for a second, and last, time at the Pacem in Terris (“Peace in the World”) Conference in Geneva, May 28-31, 1967. A few days later on April 4th 1967, on Dr King’s return to the US, he gave his famous speech at the Riverside Church in New York, coming out publicly against the Vietnam War.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Thich Nhat Hanh:
“I know Thich Nhat Hanh, and am privileged to call him my friend… [He is] an apostle of peace and non-violence… He has travelled the world, counselling statesmen, religious leaders, scholars and writers, and enlisting their support. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”
Thich Nhat Hanh on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:
“The moment I met Martin Luther King, Jr., I knew I was in the presence of a holy person. Not just his good work, but his very being was a source of great inspiration for me… On the altar in my hermitage in France are images of Buddha and Jesus, and every time I light incense, I touch both of them as my spiritual ancestors… In Vietnam, we refer to Dr. King as a “Bodhisattva”, an enlightened being devoted to serving humanity…”