In the summer of 1968, Charles Schulz—born today in 1922—decided not to take the path of least resistance. In the first months of the Presidential race, the politics of Peanuts were as inscrutable as ever:
The political positions of the birds—one of whom Schulz would christen “Woodstock” two years later—are literally cryptic. (Snoopy later embraced of identity politics via a nifty collapse of signifier into signified, but let’s not lit-crit these panels quite yet.) For Schulz, the campaigns of Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace were less important than baseball:
This dead-pan surrealism here is Peanuts at its artistic best, but at a time when America was at war and a segregationist was a viable Presidential candidate, dead-pan surrealism wasn’t the order of the day. So Schulz sent Charlie Brown to the beach:
This strip’s a fairly typical example of Charlie Brown’s half-hearted exasperation with an unfair world. The next?
Not only does the world cease its relentless, playful torment of Charlie Brown, but the boy who tamps it down is black and can swim. Because on 31 July 1968, Schulz introduced the world to Franklin. May not seem like much, but it’s as explicitly political as Peanuts ever ventures. Until, that is, 1 August 1968:
The father of Franklin, the black boy who swims, is over in Vietnam. That second panel neatly illustrates how far Schulz strayed from his comfort zone. Charlie Brown’s father “was in a war, but [he doesn’t] know which one.” That’s the extent to which contemporary politics typically intruded the most popular daily comic in America. But for some reason, Schulz felt the need to contradict conventional racist wisdom that summer.
The racists responded in the manner befitting Wallace-backers: “I don’t mind you having a black character, but please don’t show them in school together.”
It must’ve sucked to be a racist. Unless, that is, you’re a fan of Dennis the Menace:
That’s from 13 May 1970, two years after Schulz quietly integrated public schools. There’s much to admire in the matter-of-factness of Schulz’s racial politics. Not only is there no meta- to it, there’s no mention of it—Franklin arrives, befriends Peppermint Patty, and plays football.
(Re-posted in honor of Schulz’s birthday. If you want to zoom on the images or save them, you’ll have to click over to that link because WordPress is doing something wonky with the images here.)