Franklin Armstrong made history in 1968 when he became the first Black character in Charles Schulz’ popular Peanuts comic strip. The idea to bring a Black friend into the Peanuts gang came from a teacher who thought adding the character would promote racial healing around the time of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Today, Franklin’s legacy continues to promote diversity and inclusion through a new initiative that hopes to encourage more Blacks to pursue careers in the field of animation.
The Armstrong Project is a partnership between Peanuts Worldwide and Native Tongue Communications designed to support Black college students majoring in animation, arts, communication or entertainment. The project will choose one student at well-known HBCUs Hampton and Howard University to receive a $10,000 scholarship. Students will also have access to mentoring and internship opportunities in their field of study.
Right now, the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics says Blacks represent less than 4 percent of animators in the industry. And as Bruce W. Smith, creator of The Proud Family, notes, representation matters. His popular Disney animated series centered around the adventures of a young Black girl and her family. Smith says Franklin’s character provided inspiration for him to pursue a career in animation. “Seeing Franklin was sort of like a revelation, ‘cause here’s a character that represents you,” he said. “The first time I saw him on a special, he’s dancing. That meant something to a lot of us and certainly inspired my path as an artist.”
The importance of Franklin’s legacy is not lost on the students, including one of the scholarship recipients, Howard University student Hailey Cartwright. “If Franklin had never been introduced to the Peanuts series, I can’t fathom how different my life would be,” Cartwright said. “If he wasn’t there, in the direction I want to take my career, in animation, would I even have a chance? I just wonder.”