Profile: Tom Feelings (1933-2005)

Tom Feelings was a 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 and was the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he lived in New York City, Ghana, Guyana, and Columbia, South Carolina.

Biography

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

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 School of Visual Arts from 1957 to 1960.

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

Feelings created the groundbreaking comic strip Tommy Traveler In the World of Negro History for the New York Age in 1958. 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 1960 Feelings illustrated The Street Where You Live, a four-color comic for the NAACP’s pamphlet on voter registration. Another example of Feelings’s early work is the illustrations that accompanied “The Negro in the U.S.” for Look Magazine, in 1961.

Feelings moved to Tema, Ghana in 1964 and served as illustrator and consultant for the African Review, a magazine published by the Ghanian government, until 1966.[1][4]

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. 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.

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.

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

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

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