John Wayne's name on California airport faces new scrutiny

John Wayne's name on California airport faces new scrutiny

  • Updated

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — In the latest move to change U.S. place names tied to racist groups and ideas, leaders of Orange County’s Democratic Party are pushing to drop film legend John Wayne’s name from the county’s airport because of his racist and bigoted comments.

The party's executive committee in Orange County adopted a resolution last week condemning Wayne’s “racist and bigoted statements” in a 1971 interview and called on the county's board of supervisors to drop his "name and likeness" from the airport. The resolution asked the board to restore the name to Orange County Airport.

“An international airport that serves millions of people each year should not be named for someone who, in real life, opposed our nation’s values of opportunity and justice for all,” Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, said in a statement. “Now is the time for change”

The push to oust Wayne, a longtime county resident who died in 1979, from the airport's name, has a lengthy history, and his bigoted statements against Black people, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community in a 1971 Playboy interview are often cited as the reason it's ill-suited to welcome visitors to the diverse Southern California county widely known for its scenic beaches and as the home to Disneyland.

In the interview, Wayne is quoted saying, “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.” He also said he felt no remorse for the subjugation of Native Americans and called movies such as “Easy Rider” and “Midnight Cowboy” perverted.

The airport in the heart of Orange County dates back decades and county officials voted to change the name to remember Wayne when he died in 1979. Deanne Thompson, an airport spokeswoman, said the county has no plans to change the name or remove a statue of Wayne from the airport, which received more than 10 million passengers in 2018, though the issue comes up periodically, including last year.

But the current push comes as thousands of Americans have taken to the streets to protest police brutality against Black people and systemic racism in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. In many places, communities have moved to take down statues of former slaveholders — or topple them — and remove the Confederate emblem from imagery including Mississippi's state flag.

It also comes as Orange County has gone over the past four decades from being a predominantly Republican, suburban enclave to a region of more than 3 million residents that is now home to more Democrats than Republicans. The county has also gone from being largely white to much more diverse, with large Latino and Asian communities.

The county's board of supervisors is still comprised mostly of Republicans, even as the GOP lost four key Congressional seats in the region to Democratic contenders two years ago.

Board Chair Michelle Steel, a Republican who is seeking to unseat one of those Democratic representatives, said Monday that Wayne's comments are “wrong and sad” but she supports keeping his name on the airport, arguing “a person should be judged on the totality of their actions and contributions to society.” She said Wayne also supported U.S. military personnel and Vietnamese refugees who arrived fleeing communism.

Wayne starred in movies including “The Alamo,” ”The Green Berets” and “True Grit,” for which he won an Academy Award, while portraying the gruff, rugged cowboys and brave soldiers who were his stock in trade.

Ethan Wayne, the movie star's son, said in a statement that his father was not racist and hired and worked with people from diverse backgrounds. He said it would be unfair to judge him based on a single interview.

“The current focus on social justice is absolutely valid and necessary,” the younger Wayne said. “But attempts by some to use it for political advantage distract from real opportunities for reform.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

1
0
1
1
0

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Business
  • Updated

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday extended the closure of bars and indoor dining statewide and ordered gyms, churches and hair salons closed in most places as coronavirus cases keep rising in the nation's most populated state.

  • Updated

Surging coronavirus cases in California prompted a warning on Wednesday from the nation's most populous county of a possible delay to classroom instruction in public schools next month — a setback Gov. Gavin Newsom said he hopes to avoid by convincing more people to wear face coverings and stay away from gatherings.

Politics
  • Updated

The California secretary of state's election data obtained by the AP showed 102,428 mail-in ballots were disqualified in the state’s 58 counties, about 1.5% of the nearly 7 million mail-in ballots returned. That percentage is the highest in a primary since 2014, and the overall number is the highest in a statewide election since 2010.

Business
  • Updated

The Los Angeles and San Diego school districts, the two largest in California with a combined K-12 student population of about 720,000, announced Monday they won't bring students back to classrooms next month because of rising coronavirus hospitalizations and infection rates.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alert

Breaking News