BY TOM HESTER SR.
Assemblyman Scott Rudder (R-Burlington) on Wednesday called on the New Jersey Hall of Fame to eliminate 19th century cartoonist Thomas Nast from the list of potential 2012 inductees.
Rudder is the third legislator to argue that Nast’s racist depictions of Irish Catholics is inconsistent with the Hall of Fame’s mission.
“Thomas Nast’s depictions of Santa Claus are beloved, but his portrayal of Irish Catholics was deplorable,” Rudder, an Irish-American, said. “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.”
Nast, who lived in Morristown, created magazine and newspaper political cartoons that were racially biased against Irish and German immigrants and African-Americans.
Nast also created the modern version of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam, and popularized the symbols of the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey. But he also sketched cartoons portraying the Irish as violent drunks, and depicted Irish Catholic Bishops as crocodiles in a river, waiting to ambush American school children.
“Nast’s representation of the people of Ireland and Catholics was incendiary and damaging,” Rudder said. “His hateful rhetoric should have disqualified him from any Hall of Fame discussion. I have asked the executive director of the Hall of Fame (Don Jay Smith) to have him removed from consideration immediately.”
The Hall of Fame’s mission statement says: “By presenting significant and powerful role models … the Hall of Fame is a source of learning, inspiration and hope for children.”
“The state Hall of Fame should promote tolerance and acceptance, not the racial bigotry and religious paranoia that Nast promoted in some of his work,” Rudder said. “Thomas Nast used his sketch pencil as a weapon to denigrate Irish Catholics and play on public fears.”
Smith maintains Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons were a fraction of his work and stemmed from his dislike of Tammany Hall, New York City’s 19th century Democratic political machine. Smith has pointed out that this year marks the third year that Nast has been a nominee.
"He attacked the Irish because they were the main supporters of the Democratic machine of Tammany Hall, which he opposed,” Smith said two weeks ago. “If it had been another group, he would have attacked them. The feeling on our board of commissioners is that this is his third year as a nominee, and it’s up to the public to decide if he’s worthy of the nomination”
Assemblymen Wayne P. DeAngelo (D-Mercer) and Scott Rumana (R-Passaic) and the New Jersey Ancient Order of Hibernians also have called for the removal of Nast’s name from the ballot.
Nast is nominated in the Hall of Fame’s largest category, General, which includes educators, writers, poets, military leaders, scholars and more. The other nominees include artists Alexander Calder, Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Addams; philanthropist Doris Duke, economist Milton Friedman, writers Joyce Carol Oates and Dorothy Parker, scholar Dorothy Porter Wesley and former Gov. Tom Kean.
If Nast is chosen for the Hall of Fame, Gov. Chris Christie, will have the role of announcing his selection.