After the Democratic Party of Orange County passed a resolution last Friday to rename John Wayne Airport and to remove a statue of the actor from the airport grounds due to accusations of racism, the fight heated up on Monday with other county lawmakers and the Wayne family defending the movie icon.
A possible change for the Santa Ana airport
The push came after a rediscovery of a 1971 Playboy interview with Wayne in which he made highly charged and bigoted statements about African Americans.
“I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people,” said Wayne in the 1971 interview. “I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves.”
Wayne also mentioned his feelings on Native Americans, which were also called bigoted.
I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them. The so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival,” added Wayne in the interview. “There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”
The interview with Wayne, spurred by the continuing removal of monuments and positive recognition for those involved with the subjugation of other races and espousing racist views, became the main catalyst for Friday’s resolution. The George Floyd protests were also cited as another reason for the change as well, as those protests invigorated the recent string of renamings and monument removals.
“There have been past efforts to get this done and now we’re putting our name and our backing into this to make sure there is a name change,” said Democratic Party of Orange County Chairwoman Ada Briceno. “We need to restore the airport to it’s original name, Orange County Airport.”
Many opposing the name change
Many Orange County Republican leaders said over the weekend that such a name change would not happen, with many County residents also opposing the move.
On Monday, Wayne’s family joined the opposition against the name change, insisting that Wayne himself was not racist or bigoted.
“Let me make one thing clear: John Wayne was not a racist,” said John Wayne’s Son, Ethan Wayne, in an interview with Fox News. “I know that term is casually tossed around these days, but I take it very seriously. I also understand how we got to this point.
There is no question that the words spoken by John Wayne in an interview 50 years ago have caused pain and anger. They pained him as well, as he realized his true feelings were wrongly conveyed. The truth is, as we have seen in papers from his archives, he did not support ‘white supremacy’ in any way and believed that responsible people should gain power without the use of violence.’
“One thing we know,” added Ethan Wayne. “If John Wayne were here today, he would be in the forefront demanding fairness and justice for all people. He would have pulled those officers off of George Floyd, because that was the right thing to do. He would stand for everyone’s right to protest and work toward change.”
Questions over whether or not Wayne should have honors taken away
In an interview with the Globe, historian Diana Greene explained that it usually takes more than one bad comment for change to happen.
Davis was the leader of a nation that split from the U.S. and promoted slavery. That’s treason and slavery, a high-crime and an undeniably racist action. Columbus subjugated native people. Serra did the same on a much smaller scale, and in his mind, he was doing the right thing to ‘save’ them.
Now look at Wayne. It was the one interview. All the rest had years of numerous, in some instances, tens of thousands of well documented instances.
It was bad what he said. It was terrible. But it was one interview he showed remorse over. He was sorry, and by all accounts, it was just bad day and he said stupid things. It was like how celebrities said racist things on Twitter nowadays and immediately apologized once they realized what they said was wrong. Celebrity chef Paula Deen used a racial slur in 2013, but she was forgiven after some time. She showed remorse, and even Jimmy Carter urged forgiveness.
Wayne became an American icon, made many movies, gave millions to Orange County and to cancer research, and so much more. We need to balance all that to a single interview he gave. If more came out, and those views really disenfranchised people, well, ok, that would change the conversation.
But right now they want the name changed based on one interview. You can’t judge someone entirely on a single, short conversation. That’s not really balanced. That’s not how historians build a full picture of someone.
Does he deserve to have his name taken down? Possibly, but we need to see way more evidence to make an informed decision.”
The conversation over possibly changing the airports name is expected to continue this week.