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Catholic group angry with Thomas Nast Hall of Fame nomination

Thomas Nast, the founding father of modern editorial cartooning, has been nominated to the New Jersey Hall of Fame, but one influential and vocal group is taking issue with the nomination. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, “an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization founded around the principles of Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity” says that Nast was a “prejudiced bigot.”

AOH State President Sean Pender writes that “his cartoons portrayed [Catholics] 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.” More background on the “Hibs” and their role in the Hall of Fame organization, and their complaint is over on The Irish Echo.

Mike Lynch has a great response on his blog:

So long as we’re cherry picking, we might also add that Thomas Nast supported the plight of the Native Americans, that he supported Abolition, that he fought to end political corruption. Tweed offered him a $100,000 bribe, to stop drawing those “damned pictures,” which he turned down.

Late in life, to give you an idea of the esteem in which he was held — this cartoonist, Mr. Nast, was appointed by Teddy Roosevelt to United States’ Consul General for Ecuador. After selflessly helping many people and businesses there escape a yellow fever epidemic, he succumbed and died from the disease on December 7, 1902.

Judging people from history with our present-day morals is a dicey thing to do. Heck, we have slave holders on our money.

Community Comments

#1 Tom Stemmle
December/1/2011
@ 2:39 pm

Great response, Mike! It’s too bad some people (groups) lack rational perspective.

#2 Keith Brwon
December/1/2011
@ 2:51 pm

I’ll bet in Nast’s day there were few more prejudicial than the Catholic church itself.
Organized religion has this false sense that they should be immune to satire.
In all my editorial cartooning, the religious and gun owners seem to be the most sensetive.

#3 Philip Taterczynski
December/1/2011
@ 5:07 pm

I grew up Catholic, and I’ll agree that they’re very prejudicial. In grade school, we were told that we were not Christians, we were Catholics, and any people who called themselves Christians were going to hell, and that we should feel sorry for them, but not to the point of associating with them. On the other hand, there’s a lot of irrational anti-Catholic sentiment out there, but that’s no excuse for fake indignation like this or like the crap that William Donohue spouts out on a routine basis. I’m really sick and tired of Christians in the US, collectively an overwhelming majority, whining about being “persecuted”.

#4 Keith Brown
December/1/2011
@ 5:18 pm

Philip,
I couldn’t agree more. Organized religion is a business. Always has been and always will be.

#5 Tim Wilson
December/2/2011
@ 1:46 am

Tom Nast was a bigot. You don’t get to pick and choose who you discriminate against, and who you don’t. He drew pictures of the Irish that made them look like Apes, called them Violent and Drunks. When the Catholic Church was trying to start Catholic Schooling, he drew pictures of the Bishops as Crocodiles that were trying to eat school children. And it so happens that the Catholic School system to this day, is one of the best School systems in the country. Tom Nast does NOT deserve to be honored for anything, as he was a racist! Tiocfaidh ar la.

#6 Dan Olson
December/2/2011
@ 2:55 am

Mr. Wilson,

I went to Catholic school from kindergarden thru 6th grade. From 1st grade on every one of my classes had between 50 and 60 students. In fourth grade my teacher was from the local Catholic high school … that is until the parents found out about it.

I received a substandard eduction where everything took a back seat to religious training. “Bishops as Crocodiles that were trying to eat school children”, in my opinion he was too gentle with them.

#7 Dan Olson
December/2/2011
@ 2:57 am

“In fourth grade my teacher was from the local Catholic high school ? that is until the parents found out about it.

Let clarify, she was a student at the local Catholic high school.

#8 Mike Peterson
December/2/2011
@ 4:56 am

I agree with putting Nast in the Hall of Fame, but only with a footnote acknowledging his anti-Irish, anti-Catholic crusading. His cartoons didn’t just depict the Irish as music hall drunkards, but actively promoted hatred against them. The famous crocodile cartoon was the least of it.

Like filmmaker D.W. Griffith, he was a creative pioneer, but, just as people don’t get the charges of racism against Griffith until they see the jaw-dropping virulence of “Birth of a Nation,” most people don’t get the charges against Nast if they haven’t seen the monkey-children and violent terrorist “invaders” he drew.

However, we’re back where we were when the NY Post ran that cartoon depicting Barack Obama as a chimpanzee shot dead by police. I expect the usual “but we draw monkeys all the time” apologists, who make a living with symbols but apparently don’t bother to consider what those symbols mean to other people.

Here’s what I wrote then, with a couple of samples of Nast’s anti-Irish panels. As I said over at Mike’s blog, I acknowledge his greatness, and I hope that, wherever he is today, he’s nice and warm.

http://nellieblogs.blogspot.com/2009/02/thomas-nast-never-apologized-for-his.html

#9 Jim Lavery
December/2/2011
@ 8:19 am

As stupid and ill conceived as that Post cartoon was, the gunned down chimp was NOT supposed to be Barack Obama in any way. I agree that putting a monkey anywhere near the president is asking for trouble but at the same time we should make a distinction between being either clueless or insensitive (and self righteous) and outright racially hateful and murderous.

#10 Mike Lester
December/2/2011
@ 9:18 am

If we’re descendants of apes, why can’t you draw BHO as a monkey?

#11 Jim Lavery
December/2/2011
@ 10:05 am

Mike L, didn’t you get the memo? BHO is descended from the gods.

#12 Jeff Darcy
December/2/2011
@ 12:23 pm

As an Irish Catholic I’ve seen enough Nast Irish Catholic ape
cartoons to leave no doubt in my mind that he was a raging
bigot. And I have no doubt those cartoons would never be printed in any reputable paper today.

Nast supported abolition oblivious to the fact that bigotry is
racism’s twin brother that spawned from the same cesspool.

#13 Kelly McNutt
December/2/2011
@ 1:28 pm

Philip, I grew up Catholic as well, although in a Franciscan tradition, and I couldn’t disagree more. We were Christians and it wasn’t up to us to say who was going here or there (thank you Father Barry & Grandpa MacKenzie). Keith Brown: I do agree with you, though about organized religion being a business, although as with businesses, there’s good and bad businesses, and the Franciscans would be more like your local Co-op grocer than your Enron.

#14 Mike Peterson
December/3/2011
@ 4:48 am

But the real question isn’t whether or not he was a bigot. He went beyond the blindness of his time and exalted in his bigotry. The question is whether his bigotry makes him ineligible for enshrinement in the hall.

The problem is that his character flaw is more central to his work than in the case of Pete Rose, and it doesn’t rise to the level of a Phil Spector or an OJ Simpson — both of whom were inducted into Halls of Fame before their crimes came to light, but neither of whom has been banished from said halls.

As in the cases of DW Griffith or Lincoln “Steppin Fetchit” Perry or Leni Riefenstahl, the solution seems to be to acknowledge the talent, but hold your nose and provide a disclaimer.

Nast was a master in the form. How he used his talent is, really, a separate question.

#15 Mark McComas
December/3/2011
@ 1:36 pm

Racism and anti-immigrant stances at the time of Nast were the norm. Anti-Catholicism came from the fear of protestant teetotalers that drinkers would take over their world. As the brother says above, without a knowledge of the times, judging people by current thinking is a “dicey” thing. Don’t de-humanize Thomas Nast as his generation did blacks, Jews and Catholics. That’s hypocrisy. Try to view the whole affair through 19th century glasses.

#16 Gerry Mooney
December/6/2011
@ 10:49 am

I have to wonder how cartoonists who draw pictures depicting muslims as evil and less than human (or for that matter depictions of Japanese and Germans during WWII) will be judged a hundred or two hundred years from now.

#17 Philip Taterczynski
December/13/2011
@ 2:46 pm

Kelly, if you’d gone to the same school at the same time I did, you wouldn’t disagree. Once in the fourth grade, the nun teaching lectured us for half an hour on why we shouldn’t associate or play with “lettle colored children” – among the reasons was that we could catch diseases from them and they would steal all our toys. The parish told minority (i.e., Black) parents who wanted to enroll their children that there wa a Polish language instruction requirement (something which, in my Father’s day was true, but was discontinued in the 1920’s, when he was in third grade). This was School Sisters of Notre Dame, a very conservative order; maybe the Fransiscans who taught you were more worldly. This was also in the early ’60s, and the conservative parish that ran my school was desperately hoping that Vatican II would go away.

#18 Tim Wilson
December/17/2011
@ 3:33 am

Philip and Dan,

Your stories about Catholic school seem far fetched. How can a high school student legally teach a class? And I’m sure you were Not told that you are not Christians. Very odd stories to say the least.

#19 Joe Vissichelli
January/9/2012
@ 12:30 am

Being a bigot on one hand and consumate giver to social causes on the other seems to add some needed balance to the equation, when you also consider he was IT for cartooning in the 19th century.

A total pioneer needs to be recognized regardless of his level of perfection as a person. This is not Pete Rose and not even Babe Ruth, who both entered an established institution. This is a key creator of the form itself. I don’t hear Picasso’s misogyny keeping him from any museums or top ten lists.

Give Nast his due and if it feels safer to some that he have an asterisk for being a schmuck to the Irish, let them add it. But keep in mind Ty Cobb was said to be a murderer and has no such blot at Cooperstown.

#20 Mike Peterson
January/10/2012
@ 4:52 am

Cobb’s “murder” is largely folkloric. More to the point is the argument about his bigotry raised by others, and the answer to that is that he was admitted to the Hall in 1939, nearly a decade before Jackie Robinson took the field. Bigotry was acceptable at the time they enshrined him.

Not sure Frank Beard’s fans would say Nast was “IT” by the way. Nast was a giant, but not the only major cartoonist of the era.

Again, the problem with this is similar to the problem with rating DW Griffith, who is chiefly defended by people who have only seen clips of “Birth of a Nation” and not the whole ugly thing. And, like Griffith, Nast made such a contribution that his bigotry should be part of his description, and more than a footnote, but not a disqualifier.

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