A celebration of life will take place Sunday, Feb. 9 in honor of Morris "Morrie" Turner, the beloved Oakland-born "Wee Pals" cartoonist who broke racial barriers in the 1960s when he became the first African-American to have a comic strip widely syndicated throughout U.S. newspapers.

Because Turner's family is opening the service to the public and expects a large turnout, the event will take place in the Grand Ballroom at the Claremont Hotel Club and Spa in Berkeley. The service is from 1 to 4 p.m. at 41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley.

Family friend David Bellard said there will be a number of speakers, including journalist Belva Davis, who was a longtime friend of Turner. The names of the other speakers and other details about the event are pending. The family also plans to hold a private service later in February in Sacramento, where Turner moved four years ago.

Wee Pals creator Morrie Turner works on an upcoming "Wee Pals" comic strip Tuesday, March 26, 1996, at his home in Berkeley, Calif.
Wee Pals creator Morrie Turner works on an upcoming "Wee Pals" comic strip Tuesday, March 26, 1996, at his home in Berkeley, Calif. Turner's strip, the first to feature a multi-cultural cast of characters, has run since 1965 and has helped open comic pages to characters of varied races and nationalities. (AP Photo/Sam Morris) (SAM MORRIS)

Turner, a self-taught artist and protégé of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, died peacefully at a Sacramento hospital Saturday of complications from kidney disease, Bellard said. Turner turned 90 in early December and had been working on his strip and other projects up until Friday, when he went to the hospital.

When Turner created "Wee Pals" in 1965, the Oakland Tribune was one the first major newspapers to run it. At the time, characters of color rarely appeared in mainstream comic strips.

The characters in "Wee Pals," which still runs daily in the Tribune, as well as the Contra Costa Times, remain much the same as when they were created -- a group of friends who deal with racism, sexism and bullying. Turner's intention, his biography said, was "to portray a world without prejudice, a world in which people's differences -- race, religion, gender and physical and mental ability -- are cherished, not scorned."

"Wee Pals" gained general acceptance and national syndication following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Over the next four decades, Turner continued to draw his strip, published other books and regularly visited local schools to share the art of cartooning with young students.