John Wayne Airport might be renamed in the future, as activists call on the removal of monuments to public figures who held racist views. The Democratic Party of Orange County in California passed a resolution Friday asking the Orange County Board of Supervisors to drop the legendary actor's name from the airport and change it back to its original name, Orange County Airport. At the center of the controversy is a 1971 Playboy interview, in which Wayne discussed his thoughts on Black people and Native Americans. He also used an anti-gay slur to describe the characters in Midnight Cowboy.
In the 1971 interview, Wayne told Playboy he believed "in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility," adding, "I don't believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people." The True Grit actor also said he did not agree with slavery, but, "I don't feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves."
Later, Wayne said he did not believe the U.S. "did wrong" by taking land from Native Americans in the 1800s. "[O]ur so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival," he said. "There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves." Wayne also criticized then-new films like Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy and used the anti-gay slur to describe Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman's characters.
The John Wayne Airport was first called the Orange County Airport but was renamed in 1979, the same year as Wayne's death. It is the second-busiest airport in the Greater Los Angeles area and closer to Disneyland than LAX. A 9-foot tall statue of Wayne was added to the airport in 1982. Here is a look at what you need to know about the name change efforts.
This is not the first attempt at a name change
This is only the latest attempt at changing John Wayne Airport's name. Before the local Democratic party's resolution passed on June 26, there was a major effort last year. In February 2019, Wayne's name began trending on Twitter when the Playboy interview resurfaced. Around that time, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed saying it was "time" to take Wayne's name off the airport. A Change.org user also created a petition in March 2019. It has more than 1,700 signatures.prevnext
In the Playboy interview, Wayne said 'I believe in white supremacy'
In the 1971 Playboy interview, Wayne was asked to respond to the activist Angela Davis, who said her teaching credentials were revoked because she is Black. "With a lot of Blacks, there's quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so. But we can't all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the Blacks," Wayne replied. "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."
Since Wayne was often seen on the big screen fighting with Native Americans, he was also asked if he felt any empathy for them. "I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that's what you're asking," he said. "Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves."
In another part of the interview, Wayne said he found Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy and other then-recent films "perverted." He also used an anti-gay slur to refer to the characters in Midnight Cowboy.prevnext
The Orange County Democratic Party called Wayne's comments 'racist and bigoted'
The new effort to rename the Wayne airport began Friday when the Democratic Party of Orange County passed a resolution calling for the name change. "The Democratic Party of Orange County condemns John Wayne’s racist and bigoted statements, and calls for John Wayne's name and likeness to be removed from the Orange County airport, and calls on the OC Board of Supervisors to restore its original name: Orange County Airport," the resolution reads. It was co-signed by Chapman University's Fred Smoller and Michael Moodian, who wrote an op-ed on June 23 in the Voice of OC, calling for the airport to be renamed.prevnext
'John Wayne is not a racist,' son Ethan Wayne said
On Monday, Wayne's son, actor Ethan Wayne, sent a statement to TMZ, pushing back on the name change efforts. He said his father was "not racist" and suggested he "would have pulled those officers off of George Floyd because that was the right thing to do." As he did last year, Ethan said his father should not be judged based on a single interview, "as opposed to the full picture of who he was." According to Ethan, the comments in the interview "pained" his father as well, "as he realized his true feelings were wrongly conveyed."prevnext
Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel does not support a name change.
Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, whose district includes the airport, issued a statement on Monday against renaming the airport, noting the actor's efforts to make Orange County a welcoming community for Vietnamese refugees.
"As an immigrant to our country, I am extremely sensitive to the actions and statements of people who perpetuate and make racist statements. The comments by John Wayne from 50 years ago are wrong and sad from someone who so many people across America hold in high regard," she wrote. "While I have experienced racism first-hand, I do believe that a person should be judged on the totality of their actions and contributions to society which is why I support keeping the name John Wayne Airport."prevnext
The next step for the name change
It's not clear what the next step for the resolution will be, but Voice of OC journalist Norberto Santana Jr. believes it could be a ballot initiative for voters to decide, even though the County Supervisors could just decide themselves to change the name. Santana notes that there have been ballot resolutions regarding major changes to the airport in the past, including one about moving the airport's location, which failed with voters. Meanwhile, Mission Viejo Councilman Greg Raths, the Republican running against Democratic U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, is taking on the issue on Twitter. "Not on my watch!! John Wayne is Orange County," he tweeted. President Donald Trump also called renaming the airport "incredible stupidity."prev