CAMDEN — The controversial nomination of cartoonist Thomas Nast to the New Jersey Hall of Fame is stirring up debate among some people of Irish descent and Roman Catholics as well as New Jersey political figures.
Lawrence Keeley, of the anti-Irish Defamation Federation in Philadelphia, said no one is denying that Nast was a world renowned cartoonist but he was also a bigot of the highest kind who disliked Irish, Catholics, and especially Irish-Catholics.
“Why would New Jersey pick a bigot to honor in the Hall of Fame when there are plenty of good people — living and dead — who can be recognized?” Keeley asked.
The Federation, Keeley pointed out, keeps its eye out on anything anti-Irish and anti-Irish Catholic.
Nast, of Morristown (1840-1902), was a German-born caricaturist and editorial cartoonist who has been described as the “Father of the American Cartoon.” He is credited with creating enduring images of Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, the Republican Party elephant and the Democratic Party donkey.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said, “The New Jersey Hall of Fame (NJHF) includes luminaries as diverse as Albert Einstein and Shaquille O’Neal. It should not be dishonored by including bigots. Thomas Nast, who made the first cut of the 50 nominees for the class of 2012, is the most bigoted cartoonist in American history.”
According to Donohue, Nast’s cartoons show “a long and pernicious pattern of bigotry born of nativism.” Among his portrayal of Catholics and Irish, Nash depicted the Irish as a race of inferior gorillas and he demonized the church “as a nefarious institution threatening America’s public schools.”
Donohue said he contacted Don Jay Smith, executive director of the NJHF, asking that Nast’s nomination be withdrawn.
Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, (D-Mercer) also contacted Smith asking for the withdrawal of Nast’s name.
The assemblyman indicated that in the midst of Nast’s political cartoons such as the depiction of Uncle Sam and the Democratic Party’s donkey and the Republicans’ elephant are “works that are racially charged and offensive.”
He said the works that depict Irish Catholics in a demeaning light are “inflammatory and offensive to the thousands of Irish Catholics who call New Jersey home.”
Assemblyman Scott Rudder (R-Burlington) is also calling for the Hall of Fame to eliminate Nast from the list of 2012 inductees.
“Thomas Nast’s depictions of Santa Claus are beloved, but his portrayal of Irish Catholics was deplorable,” said Rudder, who is proud of his Irish heritage. “Nast’s inclusion on the public ballot for induction to the Hall of Fame is not only insulting to New Jersey residents of Irish descent or Catholic faith, but to people of every group that has been victimized by bigotry and stereotyping. I have asked the executive director of the Hall of Fame to have him removed from consideration immediately.”
Donohue noted that the Hall of Fame calls itself “a source of learning, inspiration, and hope for children.” He said, “Nast was not a significant and powerful role model for children in the 19th century and he sure is not a role model for any U.S. citizen today.”