Tom Feelings

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Tom Feelings
BornMay 19, 1933
Brooklyn, New York
DiedAugust 25, 2003(2003-08-25) (aged 70)
Area(s)Cartoonist, illustrator
Notable works
Tommy Traveler In the World of Negro History
To Be a Slave
The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo
AwardsCaldecott Honor, 1972, 1975
Coretta Scott King Award, 1996

Tom Feelings (May 19, 1933 – August 25, 2003)[1] was a cartoonist, children's book illustrator, author, teacher, and activist. Through his works, he framed the African-American experience. His most famous book is The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo.


Feelings was a prolific and accoladed illustrator, the recipient of numerous awards for his art in children's picture books; he was the first African-American artist to win the Caldecott Honor Award, and was the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lived in New York City, Ghana, and Guyana.[2][3]

Feelings was born on May 19, 1933 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York.[4] He attended the George Westinghouse Vocational High School, where he majored in art, and later the Cartoonists' and Illustrators' School, which he attended for two years on a scholarship. During this freelance period, he primarily depicted African-American residents of his community.[3]

His earliest known (signed) comic book work may be the story "Scandal" in Key Publication's third issue of Radiant Love (February 1953).

A skilled cartoonist, Feelings created the groundbreaking comic strip Tommy Traveler In the World of Negro History for the New York Age in 1958 after leaving the Air Force. Based on his own experience after discovering the adult section of the public library while researching a school project, Tommy Traveler is a black youth's dream adventures in American history while reading of notable black heroes. This material was released in book form in 1991.

In about 1960 Feelings illustrated the NAACP's four-color comic for voter registration, The Street Where You Live. Another early piece was for Look magazine, doing portraits of children in New Orleans in 1962.

Around 1968 he met Bertram Fitzgerald and he became one of the first contributors to Fitzgerald's new line of black history comics with the umbrella title Golden Legacy. In an interview Fitzgerald recalled at this time Feelings had done a previous biography of Crispus Attucks,[5] the first casualty of the American Revolution, which was adapted into the Golden Legacy series. Crispus Attucks was one of the characters in the Tommy Traveler newspaper strip.

From the late 1960s through the 1990s, Feelings concentrated on children's books, illustrating other authors' works as well as writing his own. Notable titles included To Be a Slave (written by Julius Lester), Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book, Jambo Means Hello: A Swahili Alphabet Book, and The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo.

Feelings died aged 70 in 2003, in Mexico, where he had been receiving treatment for cancer.[6]


To Be a Slave was a 1969 Newbery Honor Book, an ALA Notable Book, the School Library Journal's Best Book of the Year, and the Smithsonian Best Book of the Year. It was given a 1970 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

Feelings was a 1972 Caldecott Medal Honor recipient for his book Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book.

He was a 1974 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for his picture book Jambo Means Hello: A Swahili Alphabet Book. Jambo Means Hello was also 1975 Caldecott Medal Honor recipient.

Feelings' book The Middle Passage won the 1996 Coretta Scott King Award. In addition, it won a special commendation at the 1996 Jane Addams Children's Book Award ceremonies.


  1. ^ X, Marvin. "On the Passing of an Artist of the People: Tom Feelings," ChickenBones: A Journal.
  2. ^ "The Artist: Tom Feelings," Juneteenth.
  3. ^ a b "Tom Feelings | Penguin Random House". Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  4. ^ "Authors Emeritus: Tom Feelings and Virginia Hamilton". Bookology Magazine. 2015-09-01. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  5. ^ Christopher, Tom, "Bertram A Fitzgerald and the Golden Legacy Series of Black History Comics" (originally published in edited form in Comics Buyer's Guide),
  6. ^ "Tom Feelings, 70, an Illustrator Who Portrayed Black History", The New York Times, August 30, 2003.

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