Fear of a Black Muppet: The Legacy, Love, and Lessons of Roosevelt Franklin
In the heart of 123 Sesame Street, amid the laughter and learning, a young Black Muppet named Roosevelt Franklin made history. From 1970 to 1975, he became a symbol of pride, respect, and controversy. This precocious Muppet wasn't just a character; he was a remix on reality, a testament to the diversity within the Black diaspora.
The Sesame Street Revolution
From the outset, Sesame Street wanted to represent all children, no matter their skin color. But when it came to Blackness, pleasing everyone seemed impossible. The creators' commitment to representing Black children was strong, and their efforts were revolutionary. Yet, Roosevelt Franklin became "too Black for Sesame Street" and was phased out. How did this happen?
From Black Power to Blues Singing
Roosevelt Franklin was crafted out of love. Voiced by Matt Robinson, who played Gordon, Roosevelt was a lively, scatting, blues-singing cool kid. The character's essence resonated with Robinson's own pride in his race and anger with racism. Nina Simone, Shirley Chisholm, and others lent their voices to market the show, reflecting the determination and resourcefulness of the Black community.
Controversy and Celebration
Roosevelt's stage Negro dialect and portrayal ignited a debate. Was he a modern-day minstrel show or a deeply empowering portrayal of African-American life? The answer wasn't simple. As Barbara H. Stewart noted in 1973, Roosevelt's dialect led to the belief that Sesame Street saw poor Black children as "verbally destitute." The character's removal sparked conversations about how Black identity should be portrayed.
Much Different: A Diaspora within a Diaspora
Roosevelt's story speaks to the importance of Much Different and its philosophy. There are many ways to be Black, and all deserve to be honored and celebrated. It's clear that Franklin was a manifestation of love. As an urban kid connected to Sesame Street's story, I see its roots in Black history. It's no wonder that the show's ethos became the foundation for my brand, long before I had the language for it.
Cool Black History Facts
- Sesame Street's set design was inspired by a 1968 public-service campaign to care for children in Harlem.
- Mississippi initially refused to air Sesame Street due to its portrayal of multiracial harmony but later reversed its decision.
- The show's educational value has been quantified in over a thousand research papers, proving its revolutionary impact.
A Note to Franklin
I apologize for the ignorance of some ancestors who thought it better to assimilate than celebrate. They did it to SNCC too, when they wanted to wear denim instead of suits during civil rights marches. May you and all the folks of Sesame Street go down in Black history as heroes and storytellers of change and action, even if that action wasn't received with the love it was offered with.
Conclusion: Story Tailoring and Reality Remixing
Sesame Street didn't just entertain; it educated and challenged norms. It's a nostalgic trip down memory lane, where puppets were more than fabric and foam; they were reflections of our complex world. Roosevelt Franklin wasn't just a character; he was a lesson in acceptance, diversity, and the courage to be different. Much like the philosophy behind Much Different, he was a remix on reality, an icon that transcended stereotypes.
So here's an outrageous call to action: Let's celebrate our differences, embrace our complex histories, and create a world where every child can see themselves on the screen. Let's be unapologetically ourselves, just like Roosevelt Franklin. Let's be much different.