Friday, August 31, 2012


Ink-Slinger Profiles: Tom Little

Thomas "Tom" Little was born in Franklin, Tennessee September 27, 1898, according to Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners (1999). In the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, he was the only child of John and Florence. They lived in Franklin, Tennessee on Cameron Street. His father was a carpenter. The New York Times, May 7, 1957, said: "…His father died when he was 2 years old and the family moved in with a grandfather, Andrew Johnson, who taught the boy to draw before he could write a word. Mr. Little earned his first money, half a dollar a day, picking potatoes from sunrise to sunset, but improved on this the next year, 1907, at 9 years of age with a job folding issues of The Williamson County News…."

In the 1910 census, Little was not counted, but his mother was. She was enumerated under her maiden name, Johnson, and her occupation was milliner. Her father was the head of the household which included two sons, both younger than Florence. They lived in Franklin on Main Cross Street. The Times said: "…He finished public school and studied at Watkins Institute and Montgomery Bell Academy, a private school, both Nashville, Tenn." Who's Who said he was a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser (Alabama) and then the city editor at the Nashville Tennessean, during the years 1916 to 1923. Little signed his World War I draft card on September 12, 1918. He lived in Nashville at 519 Fifth Avenue South, and was a cartoonist at the Evening American. His description was short height, medium build, with brown eyes and hair.

The 1920 census recorded Little and his mother as part of her oldest brother's household in Nashville at 519 Fifth Avenue. She was a saleslady and he was a newspaper reporter. Who's Who said he was a staff member of the New York Herald-Tribune Syndicate, from 1923 to 1924. He created Abner Simp. He returned as a reporter to the Tennessean, from 1924 to 1931. He married Helen Dahnke in 1926.

1937 Promo Ads courtesy of Cole Johnson

The couple lived in Nashville at 911 20th Avenue South, according to the 1930 census. Both were newspaper reporters. Little was city editor at the Tennessean from 1931 to 1937. The Times said' "…in 1934 he began a comic panel for King Features Syndicate with Tom Sims. 'Sunflower Street,' their creation, was Mr. Little's work for the greater part of the fifteen years until 1949." The last Sunflower Street appeared Saturday, April 1, 1950. On April 3 the Plain Dealer said: "…Judge Piffle, a double-talking gentleman who manages to involve himself and his friends in amusing predicaments…will replace Sunflower Street, which is being withdrawn by the King Features Syndicate." The Tennessee Newspaper Hall of Fame said: "…Despite his successes and national fame, Sunflower Street became one of his most bitter disappointments. It was a panel about blacks, and his decision to quit drawing it in 1950 came when editors were becoming leery of using it because of fear it might be construed as 'looking down' on black people…." [Allan butts in: if anyone can prove that Sunflower Street began in the often cited 1934, I'd love to hear from you. Earliest I can verify is 1935.]

Plain Dealer 2/7/1938

Plain Dealer 2/9/1938

Plain Dealer 2/10/1938

Who's Who said Little became editorial cartoonist at the Tennessean, starting in 1937; years earlier he studied with cartoonist Carey Orr. His wife passed away in 1938.

In 1940, Little lived alone in the Robert E. Lee Apartments at 2108 Hayes Street in Nashville. He continued as a newspaper cartoonist. On October 20, 1945 he remarried to Lillian Hannah, according to Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002 at His mother passed away April 29, 1946, according to the Tennessee, Death Records, 1908-1959 at

Little contributed cartoons to the New York Times since 1951, according to the Times. The Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning was awarded to Little in 1957 for his Tennessean, January 12, 1956, cartoon, "Wonder Why My Parents Didn't Give Me Salk Shots?" Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Florida), June 6, 1957, reported that he almost destroyed his prize-winning cartoon.

According to the Times, Little retired in 1970 and passed away June 20, 1972, in Nashville.


Allen, I can prove the Sunflower Street series began in 1934. I own over 3000 copies of the cartoons in King Feature proof sheets. The first 6 cartoons are dated at the bottom with the year but not the date. They are simply numbered as 1,2,3,4,5 or 6. After that each cartoon has the day, month & year. Only afew sheets have the 1934 date as the series began late in the year.
Allen, I have read it many times that the Sunflower Street series dated 1934-1949. I often suspected it went into 1950 but have no copies from that year. Do you or perhaps one of your readers can supply me with those copies (all or one). I would love to get the last one published. Gary
Gary has sent me info proving that the feature began on Dec. 3 1934. Thanks Gary!

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