733. The power of a letter

The Power of a Letter.jpg

An editorial in this past Sunday's New York Times by David Kamp (Guess Who's Coming to 'Peanuts'), a contributing editor for Vanity Fair who is currently writing a book about children's culture in the 1960s and 1970s, told the story of how the Peanuts cartoon strip came to be racially integrated, by the introduction of Franklin, just a little over 3 months after Martin Luther King was assassinated.

It's the story of Harriet Glickman ("mother of three and a deeply concerned and active citizen") writing a letter to Charles Schulz, the strip's creator, 11 days after King was killed. She pitched the idea of adding "Negro children" to the regular Schulz cast of characters. Schulz wrote back to her within two weeks, declining with a considered reason. She wrote back and he wrote back again and then she shared his correspondence, with his permission, with a friend, Kenneth C. Kelly ("a black father of two"), who came up with the idea that became the character of Franklin. While this addition may seem small and unnoticeable today, it was a very big deal in 1968.

How great is this story! First, that a regular person had an idea of something that could help a very bad situation. Second, that she pitched her idea in a letter. Not a tweet or a post or an email. Of course, those weren't available in 1968, but something tells me this wouldn't have ended the way it did had the communication been electronic. Third, the famous person answered with something more than a generic form response. Fourth, a conversation developed. Fifth, the input of two regular people guided the action of a famous creative individual. Sixth, the famous creative individual *allowed* himself to be guided by regular people.

Ideas. Actual correspondence. Respect. Humility. Ongoing conversation. More respect. More humility. Action. The world changes, for good.


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[Photo: taken of an apple pancake my son made for us over the holiday.]