Irish and Catholic groups are waging a campaign against including a famous 19th century political cartoonist in the New Jersey Hall of Fame because of his negative depictions of them, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The cartoonist, Thomas Nast, was a German immigrant who moved to Morristown, NJ, in 1872 and worked for Harper's magazine in New York City. His drawings gave rise to such famous figures as Uncle Sam, Santa Claus, and the elephant and donkey that symbolize the American political parties.
An abolitionist who supported equal treatment for blacks and Asians, Nast was critical of the Irish as supporters of Tammany Hall and was against the Vatican for trying to recruit children from public schools into parochial institutions.
"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 who are campaigning against Nast's nomination.
In "The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things," a cartoon by Nast shows a drunken Irishman lighting a powder keg. Another cartoon, entitled "The American River Ganges," depicts Catholic bishops as crocodiles trying to attack schoolchildren.
The anti-Irish tenor 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 was first nominated for the Hall of Fame in 2009. But groups such as Pender's and The Knights of Columbus in NJ are contacting lawmakers and the New Jersey Hall of Fame to protest the cartoonist's nomination.
"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," said Irish-American assemblyman Scott Rumana.
However, state Sen. Richard Codey, who says he is "100% Irish," disagrees.
"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."
The Hall of Fame is encouraging those against Nast to express their views by voting online rather than calling the office. The vote is open to the general public and thousands are expected to cast their ballots online before Jan. 1. There are 50 nominees in five categories. Winners will be announced in January, and living inductees will be invited to an awards ceremony at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark in June.
Past luminaries include Meryl Streep, Bruce Springsteen, Shaquille O'Neal and Albert Einstein.