The Soul Of Sesame Street – Roosevelt Franklin

The Soul Of Sesame Street – Roosevelt Franklin

“Hail to thee our alma mater
Roosevelt Franklin High!
Elementary School
Elementary School.”

One of my all time favorite characters on Sesame Street was Roosevelt Franklin. Roosevelt Franklin was the first Black muppet, making his first appearance during season one in 1969. Roosevelt made his last appearance during season seven in 1975. I remember the theme song from these segments like it was yesterday. What I also remember is that Roosevelt was sooo much cooler than the other muppets. Cause he’s Roosevelt Franklin. Yes he is. What you say.

Roosevelt was cool AND smart. He knew his alphabet. He could count to 10. He knew the days of the week. He was a damn muppet genius! He was so damn smart that he taught his class in school. He was so damn smart the school was named after him (Roosevelt Franklin Elementary School). He was proud of being Black. He was also very funky. He would skat and rhyme  in many of his skits. All of his skits incorporated funky music of some sort.

Roosevelt was created, scripted and voiced by Matt Robinson, who was also the original Gordon on the show. Robinson also voiced Baby Ray Franklin and Mobity Mosley. Many of Roosevelt’s early segments paired him with his mother, voiced by Loretta Long who also played Susan on the show, his younger sister, Mary Frances Franklin, or his younger brother, Baby Ray Franklin. In later appearances Roosevelt appeared with his friends and classmates, Hard Head Henry Harris, Smart Tina, and Baby Bree Boo Bop A Doo.

In 1974, an album was released titled The Year of Roosevelt Franklin. It was later reissued as My Name is Roosevelt Franklin.

 

"“I heard someone call me by both my names. My first name first and my last name second.”"

— Roosevelt Franklin

Ultimately, Roosevelt was a victim of too much political correctness, which when you look at what was going on in the 1970’s is comical. Roosevelt Franklin was dropped from Sesame Street because Black parents wrote to the Children’s Television Workshop and complained that his character represented a negative stereotype of Black children, while others felt his dialogue was not Black enough. Additionally, parents complained that the other muppets in Roosevelt’s class were unruly and therefore, not setting a good example, feeling that the class room looked more like after-school detention.

In a 1973 issue of literary digest Black World, the article “Sesame Street: A Linguistic Detour for Black-Language Speakers” took Sesame to task for the way that black characters on the show spoke: “The fact that Black Language is a legitimate linguistic system is not recognized on Sesame Street… Adherents to the fallacious assumption that poor Black children are verbally destitute, the producers of Sesame Streetattempt to eradicate what they perceive as a “communicative deficit” by subjecting their audience to large doses of middle-class verbiage… An analysis of the content of Sesame Street will reveal that only a token effort is made to acknowledge that some Black people speak differently than white people and that this effort, in fact, constitutes a gross misrepresentation of Black Language.”

The article took issue with the language used in a sketch in which Roosevelt’s mother asks Roosevelt to spell his name:

” Even a cursory analysis of the preceding transcription reveals that Matt Robinson and Loretta Long do not employ Black Language in portraying Roosevelt and his mama. Usages such as “she says” (versus “she say”), “who was to blame” (versus “who be to blame” and “an L” (versus “a L“) make it apparent that the producers of Sesame Streetconfuse Black Language with what William Stewart describes as a “stage Negro dialect” which “… is little more than standard English with a slightly ethnicized or southernized pronunciation, reinforced by insertion of such general nonstandardisms as ain’t and the double negative, and perhaps a sprinkling of southern or inner-city Negro lexical usages like honey child orman.”

The fact that Roosevelt says “po’rly” or that Mama says “right on” (a phrase whose cultural-linguistic significance has been destroyed through its co-optation by whites) or that southernized inflections are employed in portraying these characters does not make them Black Language speakers…

It becomes apparent that it is unreasonable to assume that any educational program devised by the oppressor can do anything other than serve his interests… The only effective educational program for the majority of Black children in this country must be one devised and controlled by Blacks who, although having acquired certain technical skills, continue to identify with the interests of the Black masses rather than with European interests. Language intervention programs like Sesame Street are merely deterrents or detours on the road to this goal”

WTF??? REALLY??? He was a MUPPET people. And he was voiced by “Black Language Speakers”…Black people wrote the scripts and voiced the characters. As a kid I LOVED Roosevelt. As I look back on it now, guess what, I STILL LOVE ROOSEVELT. But I have a sense of humor. This is the same negro over reaction that killed Blaxploitation. I think they should bring Roosevelt back! He should have never left.

After leaving the show, Roosevelt appeared in many Sesame Street books and on retro Sesame Street merchandise.

Roosevelt Franklin © 2017 Sesame Workshop

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  2. March 20, 2015 at 2:47 am

    Black male here (though I hate qualifying myself like that). For some unknown bizarre reason Roosevelt Franklin Elementary school popped in my head today, went to Youtube. I loved it. And trust me I can look a a gazillion “black folks” things from the past and call them negative, or tacky, or stereotypes. Classic example was J.J. the show “Good Times”. Roosevelt Franklin was Classic, looking at it from my own personal lens, its’ a shame people were whining about it beting “too black” or “not black” enough. Negative stereotypes make me cringe and get pissed of how they used to do us, but Roosevelt Franklin was great then, and Great now. I was desperately trying to find the Episode called “Pride” to no avail 🙁 . The “Africa” episode made up for it, and I’m going back to watch a few others right now!!!!! Whomever made this series, just a note that you did a good job………………

  3. Annie
    June 25, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    Such a shame Roosevelt was removed. 🙁 He’s a fun character. I think he may have been a very positive influence for white kids to learn and understand early on that blacks are not “oh-so-different” from whites except in the way that every race is, but their skin tone does not make them bad – and there is no reason for racism. That is certainly the message I absorbed. I also thought blacks were quite cool (I’m white).
    I loved Sesame Street as a kid, the Count helped me like arithmetic better when I found it annoying, and I was able to compare people I knew to Sesame Street characters and understand them better. Plus I thought those adults were so awesomely fun and unusually pleasant to kids, and wished to meet them someday.

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