The local Italian community has teamed up with the Irish in New Jersey in a battle to keep 19th century illustrator Thomas Nast out of the New Jersey Hall of Fame. The illustrator’s cartoons are considered racist, showing Irish Catholics to be drunken miscreants who look like apes.
New Jersey’s Ancient Order of the Hibernians, the Catholic League, the Irish Anti-Defamation League, and state legislators from both political parties have raised objections to the idea that Nast, who seemed to be virulently anti-Irish and anti-Catholic be afforded this honor.
An Italian American organization, One Voice Coalitions, is stepping in to help block Nast. This group is the largest Italian American group who speak “out with one voice against negative stereotyping”.
They are joining the Irish community in asking the New Jersey Hall of Fame, Executive Director Don Smith, to take Nast’s name from this year’s list of nominees due to his prejudice towards Italians, Irish Catholics, and other ethnicities. Nast’s cartoons show Italians as criminals and malcontents.
In a statement, Andre DiMino, the group’s president said, “We should not be glorifying such a clearly bigoted and prejudiced person in a list of prominent New Jerseyans”
“This is supposed to be a list of New Jersey people who are ‘role models of excellence,’ not those that spewed hate speech.”
The group leader said they were in joining in the AOH’s fight to have Nast excluded from the Hall of Fame.
He continued “We support our brother and sisters in the Irish American community and their campaign against Nash’s inclusion. While the cartoonist depicted negative cartoons about Italians, Nast was especially blatant in his hostility and bigotry towards Irish Catholics.”
One Voice aims to oppose bias, stereotyping and discrimination against Italian Americans. Part of its mission is to “secure the rightful representation of Americans of Italian origin and of all peoples whose paths toward social equality have been impeded. The powers of intellect, wisdom and due process of law will be brought to bear on all inequities.”
Last week, Sean Hugh, the public affairs director and treasurer for the New Jersey Ancient Order of the Hibernians, told the Catholic News Agency:
“The Hall of Fame should be a place to honor people from New Jersey that we should all be proud of. Clearly that’s not happening here.”
Hugh continued saying that the Hall of Fame “made him look like a hero” through his accomplishments in cartooning.
The AOH are concerned that the full story of Nast’s cartoons is not being told by the Hall of Fame. Hugh says that his nomination “failed to point out that he was an anti-Catholic, anti-Italian, anti-Irish, and in some cases anti-African-American bigot.”
Nast’s nomination on the Hall of Fame website describes the artist as “a German-born caricaturist who is considered the father of political cartoons. He is 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.”
Hugh continued “My question is, whether it’s Thomas Nast or anyone else for that matter, are we just going to talk about the good things and not the bad things? Are we going to change history?...That’s something the Hall of Fame should be reviewing.”
Nast is considered a pioneer in editorial cartooning. He helped popularize the symbols of the elephant and the donkey for the Republican and Democratic parties. He also helped create the modern versions of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam.
Here’s a short documentary on Thomas Nast’s work:
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