Tom Feelings

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Tom Feelings
Portrait photograph of Tom Feelings from the 1968 first-edition dust jacket of To Be a Slave.jpg
Portrait from the first edition of To Be a Slave (1968)
BornMay 19, 1933
Brooklyn, New York
DiedAugust 25, 2003(2003-08-25) (aged 70)
Nationality American
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
Awards Caldecott Honor, 1972, 1975
Coretta Scott King Award, 1996
Muriel Feelings
(m. 19691974)

Tom Feelings (May 19, 1933 – August 25, 2003) was an artist, cartoonist, children's book illustrator, author, teacher, and activist. He focused on the African-American experience in his work. His most famous book is The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo.


Feelings was the recipient of numerous awards for his art in children's picture books. He was the first African-American artist to receive a Caldecott Honor, [1] and was the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982. [2] Born in Brooklyn, New York, he lived in New York City, Ghana, Guyana, and Columbia, South Carolina. [2]


Feelings was born on May 19, 1933, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York. [3] [4]

Feelings studied cartooning at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School from 1951 to 1953 and, after serving in the Air Force working in the Graphics Division, returned to New York to study illustration at the now-renamed School of Visual Arts from 1957 to 1960. [2] [5]

His earliest known (signed) comic book work may be the story "Scandal" in Key Publication's third issue of Radiant Love (February 1953). [6]

Feelings created the groundbreaking comic strip Tommy Traveler In the World of Negro History for the New York Age in 1958. [7] 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. [8]

In 1960 Feelings illustrated The Street Where You Live, a four-color comic for the NAACP's pamphlet on voter registration. [9] Another example of Feelings's early work are the illustrations that accompanied "The Negro in the U.S." for Look Magazine, in 1961. [8] [9]

Feelings moved to Tema, Ghana, in 1964 and served as illustrator and consultant for the African Review, a magazine published by the Ghanaian government, until 1966. [3]

In 1967, Feelings illustrated Crispus Attucks and the Minutemen, the third in Bertram Fitzgerald's Golden Legacy series of comic books about black history that eventually included sixteen volumes and was published until 1976. [10] Crispus Attucks, the first casualty of the American Revolution, was also one of the historical figures that Feelings included in the Tommy Traveler comic strip.

Feelings with Maya Angelou, c. 1987 Portrait photograph of Tom Feelings and Maya Angelou by Ted Pontiflet from the 1987 first-edition dust jacket of Now Sheba Sings the Song.jpg
Feelings with Maya Angelou, c.1987

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 was married to fellow children's book author and his frequent collaborator Muriel Feelings from 1969 to 1974. [11] [12]

Feelings was an artist in residence and professor of art at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC from 1990 to 1996. [13]

Feelings died aged 70 in 2003, in Mexico, where he had been receiving treatment for cancer. [14]


Comic Books

Book Illustrations

Words and Pictures

Artists' Books


To Be a Slave was recognized in 1969 as a Newbery Honor Book , [16] an ALA Notable Book , [17] a Hornbook Fanfare Best Book, [17] the Library of Congress Children's Literature Center Best Children's Book, [17] 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 with his wife Muriel Feelings for their book Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book. [1]

Muriel and Tom Feelings also received a 1974 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for the picture book Jambo Means Hello: A Swahili Alphabet Book. [18] Jambo Means Hello was also 1975 Caldecott Medal Honor recipient. [1]

Feelings's book The Middle Passage won the 1996 Coretta Scott King Award. [19] In addition, it won a special commendation [20] at the 1996 Jane Addams Children's Book Award ceremonies.

In 2001, the South Carolina Department of Education honored Feelings in its African-American History Month calendar alongside Merl Code, Sanco Rembert, Mamie Johnson, Bill Pinkney, and other notable black South Carolinians. [21]

Further reading

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  2. 1 2 3 "The Artist: Tom Feelings," Juneteenth.
  3. 1 2 "Authors Emeritus: Tom Feelings and Virginia Hamilton". Bookology Magazine. 2015-09-01. Retrieved 2017-03-11.
  4. Feelings, Thomas (2001). "The Middle Passage: White ships/black cargo". Black Renaissance / Renaissance Noire. 3 (3): 109.
  5. Angelou, Maya (2003). "Balancing pain and joy (Obituary)". The International Review of African American Art. 19 (2): 62–63.
  6. "Radiant Love #3 (Stanley Morse (Key))". Comic Book Plus. Retrieved 2019-11-30.
  7. Schelly, William (2013). American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1950s. TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 69. ISBN   9781605490540.
  8. 1 2 Babb, Valerie (2017). A History of the African American Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 297. ISBN   978-1-108-21027-0.
  9. 1 2 DeVore, Jesse (1963). "Negro Art Theme Winning -- Successful Brooklynite". The Crisis. April 1963: 228–230.
  10. Jackson, Tim (2016). Pioneering Cartoonists of Color. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN   9781496804792.
  11. Edmonds, Arlene. "Author Muriel L. Feelings dies at 73". The Philadelphia Tribune. Retrieved 2019-11-11.
  12. "Feelings, Muriel L. 1938– |". Retrieved 2019-11-11.
  13. Anonymous (2003). "Illustrator Tom Feelings succumbs to cancer". School Library Journal. 49 (10): 28.
  14. "Tom Feelings, 70, an Illustrator Who Portrayed Black History", The New York Times , August 30, 2003.
  15. Edwards, Ruth E; Feelings, Tom (2000). With care. Ruthology. OCLC   136957850 . Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  16. "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). 1999. Retrieved 2019-11-10.
  17. 1 2 3 To Be a Slave by Julius Lester . Retrieved 2019-11-10.{{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  18. "Past Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Winners". The Horn Book. Retrieved 2019-11-10.
  19. "Coretta Scott King Book Awards - All Recipients, 1970-Present". Round Tables. 2012. Retrieved 2019-11-10.
  20. "Jane Addams Children's Book Award Winners and Honor Books 1953-present". Jane Addams Children's Book Award. 2018. Retrieved 2019-11-10.
  21. "Past Honorees". South Carolina African American History Calendar. South Carolina Department of Education. Retrieved 26 December 2022.