When “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz introduced the first Black “Peanuts” character, Franklin Armstrong in 1968, it gave Black children a chance to see themselves in print. Now, more than fifty years later, Peanuts Worldwide has launched The Armstrong Project to help Black students who want to pursue careers in animation.
The Armstrong Project provides two $100,000 endowments to Howard University and Hampton University. It will include annual $10,000 scholarships for a student pursuing studies in animation, arts, communications, or the entertainment field at each university. Not only will the endowments provide scholarships, but the program will also offer corporate internships and mentors for students.
The idea for integrating the Peanuts comic came from California schoolteacher Harriet Glickman after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. According to NPR, Glickman wrote Schulz and said, “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 fear, hate and violence…It occurred to me today that the introduction of Negro children into the group of Schulz characters…would help in shaping the unconscious attitudes of our kids.”
A couple of months later, Franklin was “born.” Initially, Franklin did not have a last name, but that changed after Robb Armstrong, a well-known Black animator and Schulz became friends. When they began discussing the character of Franklin, Armstrong replied, “He has no last name. It’s not good. It’s not respectful to him as a character.” When Schulz asked if he could use his last name, Armstrong said, “Sparky, yes, of course.”
According to the Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, African American animators account for less than 4% of the field. Armstrong, an early advocate of this initiative, recounts how he was only one of four African Americans in the business when he made his foray into the industry. He has long wanted to improve those numbers and partnered up with Peanuts Worldwide on The Armstrong Project.
The project launched in 2021 with the first scholarships being awarded during the 2022-2023 academic year. The two recipients were Hampton University’s Promise Robinson and Hailey Cartwright from Howard University. Both students expressed how inspired they were by the character of Franklin and how they’re looking forward to telling diverse and inclusive stories in their work.
Charles “Sparky” Schulz’s widow Jean said, “It is incredibly moving to me that The Armstrong Project is intended to create positive change in the lives of young Black animators and artists—just as the character of Franklin did so many years ago,” reports Animation World Network.