John Wayne Airport Could Be Renamed Due to Actor's Racism

The Orange County, California Democratic Party is calling on officials to remove John Wayne's name and statue from the international airport there, citing the actor's controversial Playboy interview from 1971, in which Wayne made several derogatory comments about Blacks, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community. The party passed a resolution condemning Wayne's "racist and bigoted statement," and asked that all references to Wayne be removed. The resolution asks the Orange County Board of Supervisors to return the airport to its original Orange County Airport name.

"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," Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, told the Los Angeles Times. Briceño and the resolution's authors said the effort is part of the growing "national movement" to remove symbols of white supremacy from monuments, sports leagues, teams and business. "It is widely recognized that racist symbols produce lasting physical and psychological stress and trauma particularly to Black communities, people of color and other oppressed groups," the resolution reads.

The Orange County Airport was renamed the John Wayne Airport in 1979, the same year Wayne died. Early last year, another push to rename the airport began after the Playboy interview resurfaced on Twitter. "I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility," Wayne told the magazine. "I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people."

Wayne also said he did not approve of slavery, but, "I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves." He went on to say he did not think the U.S. "did wrong" when taking land from Native Americans. "[O]ur so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival," Wayne said. "There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves." In the same interview, he criticized the then-new films Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy and used a gay slur to describe the characters in Midnight Cowboy.

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Briceño noted that Orange County is now more diverse than it was in 1979, and taking Wayne's name off the airport would reflect that. She also noted the protests against police brutality and racial inequality following George Floyd's death may finally inspire the change. Briceño signed the resolution, as well as Chapman University's Fred Smoller and Michael Moodian. Smoller and Moodian previously called for the airport to be renamed and the removal of Wayne's statue in a June 23 Voice of OC op-ed. More than 700 people have also signed a Change.org petition calling for the name change.

Wayne remains one of the most popular actors from the 20th Century and spent part of his life in Newport Beach. He was buried in the city in 1979, after his death at age 72. He won an Oscar for his role in the 1969 adaptation of True Grit.