Thomas Nast, credited as the father of modern editorial cartooning and a resident of Morristown in the late 19th century, is one of the 50 nominees for the 2012 Class of the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
Nast was born in Germany but came to the U.S. as a child. He moved to Morristown in 1872.
The problem is he was, as the New Jersey Ancient Order of Hibernians correctly describes him, a “prejudiced bigot" when it came to depicting Irish immigrants, Catholics, and African Americans. The AOH and two Assemblymen, a Democrat and a Republican, want Nast’s name removed from the list of nominees.
State AOH President Sean Pender says of Nast, “His cartoons portrayed (Catholics) in the most stereotypical and unflattering of ways. It is hard to believe that anyone with such a prejudice towards a specific nationality and faith would be singled out for praise.”
The Hall of Fame annually picks 50 living and dead people with a connection to New Jersey as nominees and asks the public to vote through its website.
Assemblymen Wayne P. DeAngelo (D-Mercer) and Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R- Passaic) also want Nast bumped from Hall of Fame contention, citing concerns raised from the Irish Catholic community regarding anti-Irish imagery portrayed in the political cartoonist’s works.
In a letter to the New Jersey Hall of Fame, DeAngelo called for an expeditious removal of Nast’s name to avoid a negative shadow cast upon the voting process for honorees over the coming months.
“As an Irish Catholic myself and the state Assemblyman representing a large Irish community, I am deeply troubled by the nomination of Mr. Nast given disturbing imagery and depiction of Irish Catholics in the 19th Century,” DeAngelo wrote. “I do not believe that his works represent the people of New Jerseyans from all cultural backgrounds in an appropriate or respectful manner. We should not be honoring any individual who contributed to the popularization of bigotry and prejudice in our country.”
“It is inappropriate that someone whose work offended people of Irish decent and many others to even be considered for induction into our state’s Hall of Fame,” Rumana, who is Irish-American, said. “We are a state that respects people of all ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs. Mr. Nast’s work does not exemplify that respect and the potential for him to be inducted would tarnish the image of our Hall of Fame and its members.
“Like Assemblyman DeAngelo, I am proud of my Irish heritage,” Rumana said. “If Mr. Nast were selected to receive this prestigious honor, it would send the wrong message not only to people of Irish heritage, but all ethnicities, races and creeds. We have come a long way as a society since the 1800’s and there is no room for Mr. Nast’s name in such a celebrated and esteemed venue. I, too, call for his name to be removed from the ballot for New Jersey’s Hall of Fame.”
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.
Hall of Fame Director Don Smith told The Star-Ledger that Nast was nominated by members of the public and that it is up to the hall’s commissioners to decide if he remains on the ballot.
Smith told The Star-Ledger that 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 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. “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,” Smith said.
If Nast is chosen for the Hall of Fame, Gov. Chris Christie, a Catholic, will have the role of announcing his selection.
- TOM HESTER SR. NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM