The New Jersey Hall of Fame (NJHF) includes luminaries as diverse as Albert Einstein and Shaquille O’Neal. It should not be dishonored by including bigots: Catholics will be outraged to learn that of the 50 nominees for the class of 2012, Thomas Nast made the cut. Nast is not only the most bigoted cartoonist in American history, the 19th-century artist consistently inflamed hatred against the Irish and Catholics alike.
Amazingly, the NJHF’s website omits any mention of Nast’s anti-Catholic legacy. No one is denying his many talents as a creative cartoonist, but to discuss his work without mentioning his virulent anti-Catholicism is on a par with discussing filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s contributions without citing her role in generating anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany. Nast and Riefenstahl belong in a Bigots Hall of Shame, not in any honorary club.
Nast’s cartoons show a long and pernicious pattern of bigotry born of nativism [click here for a sampling]. He encouraged the mixing of racism and anti-Catholic bigotry in his depictions of the Irish as a race of inferior gorillas; he demonized the Church as a nefarious institution threatening America’s public schools; he depicted an attack on Fort Sumter by priests and bishops; he demonized bishops by portraying them as crocodiles with miters for jaws; and he also depicted them as emerging from slime while prowling towards children.
I have written to NJHF’s Executive Director Don Jay Smith asking that he withdraw Nast’s nomination. The NJHF bills itself as “a source of learning, inspiration and hope for children.” Thomas Nast was not a “significant and powerful” role model for children in the 19th century, and he sure is not a role model for any U.S. citizen today.
Contact Don Jay Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org