Deason: Simple act by one person can result in major progress
“Is this your beach ball?”
With that opening comment on his four-panel comic strip published July 31, 1968, Charles “Sparky” Schulz introduced Franklin, the trailblazing black character who appeared in the cartoon strip “Peanuts.”
It wasn’t without controversy.
The impetus to add Franklin originated from an appeal to Schulz from Harriet Glickman shortly after the death of Martin Luther King Jr.
Glickman, a suburban housewife and mother of three from California, wrote Schulz a letter after wondering what could be done “to help change these conditions in our society which led to (King’s) assassination and which contribute to the vast sea of misunderstanding, fear, hate, and violence.” She added she believed “it will be another generation before the kind of open friendship, trust, and mobility will be an accepted part of our lives.”
That was a bit optimistic, it appears.
Schulz replied to Glickman that including black characters was something he and other comic strip artists had been wrestling with because they were unsure how they might make it happen.
Glickman died March 27 of this year at age 93, and the letters she and Schulz exchanged in 1968 have been posted online by the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
In her blog, Jean Schulz wrote that she doesn’t admire many people enough to consider them her heroes, but that Harriet Glickman was definitely one. Her observations and recollections are also posted on the museum’s website. Located in Santa Rosa, California, that museum is a place my sister needs to visit when it reopens after restrictions from COVID-19 have eased. She’s been a fan of all things Snoopy since childhood.
Jean Schulz’s husband died in February 2000, but the Peanuts empire continues as strong as ever, as witnessed by its continued publication in this newspaper of Schulz’s collection of classic and timeless strips.
This is a moment when many Americans are wondering what they can do to advance the cause of racial justice and civil rights. That question looms large. Indeed, what can just one person do? So today, on Juneteenth, Harriet Glickman serves as a role model for how “just one person” can influence history.
Of course, Juneteenth marks the anniversary of the day in 1865 that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston with news that the war had ended and that those who had been enslaved were now free. It was more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on Texans due to the state’s alignment with the Old South and the Confederacy. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April 1865 and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, Union forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
In years that followed, Juneteenth was celebrated mostly by black citizens, and with varying levels of enthusiasm. But the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s revived interest, especially in Texas, and the state declared it an official holiday in 1980. Observances have since spread to many states and also several other countries. Detailed information can be found at www.juneteenth.com and numerous other online sites.
Increasingly, freedom-loving people around the world are setting aside Juneteenth as a day to recognize the importance events in the 1860s hold for a significant number in our population. July 4 is the day in 1776 when the United States proclaimed its independence, but it was decades later before those who lived in America as slaves acquired their freedom.
The sad fact is that history has shown us the courageous step of proclaiming independence is one thing, but striving to secure it is another.
Charles Schulz took a bold step during a difficult but important time in American history, and Harriet Glickman played a crucial role in that process. Those of us wondering what we can do to support the cause of justice should remember a small act like writing a letter might initiate ground-breaking change.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.