Rible/Rumana want Thomas Nast off NJ Hall of Fame ballot

A state Assemblyman is asking the New Jersey Hall of Fame to remove cartoonist Thomas Nast, who died 109 years ago, from its list of nominees because he drew some anti-Irish illustrations.

An hour after DeAngelo issued his statement, Assemblyman David Rible (R-Monmouth) also condemned the nomination, saying, "As a state Assemblyman and an Irish Catholic I am appalled at the idea that New Jersey would seek to honor a man who openly conveyed prejudice and intolerance through his so-called art."

Another Irish-American assemblyman, Scott Rumana, said, "We have come a long way as a society since the 1800s and there is no room for Mr. Nast's name in such a celebrated and esteemed venue."

Read the complete Star-Ledger story here. The complete story by the Wall Street Journal's Heather Haddon is bellow:

Cartoonist Draws Ire of N.J. Irish

Thomas Nast, whose antislavery political cartoons propelled him to notoriety in the 19th century, has ignited another uproar: whether his anti-Irish and -Catholic drawings should disqualify him from the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

Irish and Catholic groups are waging a campaign against including the father of the American political cartoon in that group of notable New Jerseyans, arguing that he routinely depicted them in an unfavorable light.

Some of Thomas Nast's cartoons, such as the 1871 drawing above, have stirred opposition to plans to honor him in New Jersey.

"He portrayed the Irish as drunken apes, and the image still remains today. We have a lot to offer beyond that," said Sean Pender, president of the New Jersey Ancient Order of Hibernians, a fraternal group with 2,500 members that is campaigning against Nast's nomination. The Knights of Columbus in New Jersey has also joined the cause.

Mr. Pender pointed to "The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things," a cartoon by Nast that shows a drunken Irishman lighting a powder keg. Another, "The American River Ganges," depicts Catholic bishops as crocodiles trying to attack schoolchildren.

Nast—whose drawings gave rise to Uncle Sam, Santa Claus and the elephant and donkey that symbolize the American political parties—was critical of the Irish as supporters of Tammany Hall. He pilloried the Vatican for trying to recruit children from public schools into parochial institutions.

The anti-Nast forces are writing letters and calling lawmakers and the New Jersey Hall of Fame to make their case.

Don Jay Smith, the executive director of the New Jersey Hall of Fame, a nonprofit based in Newark, said his office had received 50 calls from critics as of Tuesday afternoon.

Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, an Irish Catholic Democrat representing Hamilton Township near Trenton, said he was "deeply troubled" by the cartoonist's nomination and asked the group to remove him in a letter sent Tuesday.

Another Irish-American assemblyman, Scott Rumana, said, "We have come a long way as a society since the 1800s and there is no room for Mr. Nast's name in such a celebrated and esteemed venue."

State Sen. Richard Codey, a former governor who proudly described himself as "100% Irish," was less quick to judge.

"No one hates a stereotype more than me," he said. "But it seems that [Nast] just went along with the thinking of the time. I don't think he should be crucified for that."

Even Gov. Chris Christie—who is half Irish-American—has weighed in on the dispute. The governor said in a letter to Irish groups last week that he understood their concerns, but he had no direct influence over the selection. He encouraged critics to vote for alternative candidates.

Thousands are expected to cast online ballots before Jan. 1 for 50 nominees in five categories. The vote is open to the general public, and winners will be announced in January. Living inductees are invited to an award ceremony at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark in June.

Authorized by state statute, the Hall of Fame has inducted an annual crop of luminaries with New Jersey ties since 2008, including Meryl Streep, Bruce Springsteen, Shaquille O'Neal and Albert Einstein. The 56 inductees have treated the honor with surprisingly seriousness; Jack Nicholson took weeks to polish his acceptance speech, Mr. Smith said.

Nast, who lived for much of his life in Morristown, was first nominated in 2009. The German immigrant moved there in 1872 and worked for Harper's magazine in New York City.

Nast was an abolitionist who supported equal treatment for blacks and Asians. The anti-Irish tenure of his cartoons was a product of the times, said Christine Jochem, the head of special collections at the Morristown & Morris Township Library, which holds one of the nation's largest repositories of cartoons by the artist.

Nast is credited as being instrumental with the downfall of Tammany Hall leader Boss Tweed, who reportedly issued a bribe to try and stop the cartoonist.

In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt appointed Nast to be the consul general to Guayaquil, Ecuador, where he died after contracting yellow fever.

No "reputable" historian has discredited the cartoonist as a bigot, Mr. Smith said. The Hall of Fame is encouraging those with misgivings to channel them by voting online rather than calling the office.

"He really did champion a lot of minorities," Ms. Jochem said. "Unless you put his work in context, it's easy to say he was racist."


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