The Ancient Order of Hibernians in New Jersey is objecting to any green light that would result in the state honoring 19th century cartoonist and illustrator, Thomas Nast.
Nast, considered the “father of the American cartoon,” is in line to be named a member of the New Jersey Hall of Fame, which is based in Newark.
The reason for the objection is Nast’s anti-Irish and anti-Catholic magazine illustrations which appeared predominantly in the later decades of the century.
In a letter to Don Jay Smith, executive director of the hall of fame, New Jersey AOH State President, Sean Pender, said that Nast’s elevation would not fly with Hibernians in the Garden State.
“I would like to review with you an urgent matter pertaining to the New Jersey Hall of Fame, the AOH and the larger Irish Catholic community of New Jersey,” Pender wrote Smith.
Wrote Pender: “It came as a great surprise to me when I learned that Thomas Nast was a nominee for induction into the NJ Hall of Fame. While Nast, as detailed in his biography on your website, ‘can be credited with creating the iconic drawings of Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, the Republican Party elephant, the Democratic Party donkey and Columbia, the image of America as a woman,’ Mr. Nast was also very prejudiced towards Irish Catholics.
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“His cartoons portrayed them 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.
“Mr. Nast made no bones about his disrespect and contempt towards the Irish Catholics of the late nineteenth century. What is further hard to believe is that the procedure that your organization employs to review nominations did not come across this.”
Citing the hall of fame’s own website, Pender pointed to the fact that more than 30 of the most prominent individuals in their selected fields, from historians to journalists, approve a list which is then submitted to the Hall of Fame Voting Academy, a group of more than 100 of the most prominent organizations throughout the state. The Board of Commissioners then prepares and votes on a final list for the public to vote on.
“Mr. Smith,” wrote Pender, “how can this many people looking for ‘New Jersey high achievers (who) would serve as role models of excellence,’ not realize that Nast was a bigot?”
Pender pointed to Nast’s Wikipedia biography which highlights the fact that Nast was hostile to Catholicism and Irish Catholics in particular
The online biography states: “Nast, a German Protestant, saw the Roman Catholic Church as a threat to American values, and often portrayed the Irish Catholics and Catholic Church leaders in very hostile terms. In 1871, one of his works, titled ‘The American River Ganges,’ infamously portrayed Catholic bishops as crocodiles waiting to attack American school children. Nast’s anti-Irish sentiment is clearly apparent in his characteristic depiction of the Irish as violent drunks.”
Stated Pender in his letter: “Mr. Smith, there is no room for such bigoted hate mongers in the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Nast’s contributions to Americana cannot overshadow his prejudice. The NJ Hall of Fame is sullied by his inclusion as a nominee.
“I am sure that by bringing this matter to your attention you will agree with me that the following steps must be taken: the nomination of Thomas Nast is immediately removed from consideration for induction into this year’s NJ Hall of Fame. Thomas Nast is removed from all future consideration as a nominee.”
Pender requested that a statement be issued by Smith’s office acknowledging that an error was made and an apology be issued “to all the citizens of New Jersey, particularly the Irish.”
Pender suggested that the statement be released to the Newark Star Ledger, the Irish Echo and the Hibernian Digest.