A column published in the Los Angeles Times this week argues that John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, should be renamed due to racist comments that the iconic actor made in an interview almost 50 years ago.
“Most people familiar with the life story of John Wayne are aware that the late movie star was a dyed-in-the-wool right-winger — after all, he was still making a movie glorifying America’s conduct of the Vietnam War (“The Green Berets,” 1968) well after the country had begun to get sick of the conflict,” columnist Michael Hiltzik said.
“But the resurrection of a 1971 interview Wayne gave to Playboy magazine has underscored the sheer crudeness of the actor’s feelings about gay people, black people, Native Americans, young people and liberals.”
Indeed, Wayne’s 1971 interview with Playboy went viral on social media last month. In the interview, he says, among other things, that white supremacy is needed “until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.”
A Playboy interview with John Wayne, one of Hollywood's staunchest conservatives, has recently resurfaced on Twitter.
"I don't feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves," he said about African Americans. https://t.co/WABGgqQo8T
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) February 20, 2019
“With a lot of blacks, there’s quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so,” Wayne said. “But we can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. 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.”
Hiltzik concludes that because of these comments and Wayne’s “racist rage,” the Orange County airport must be renamed.
Some of Wayne’s defenders have stepped forward to say it’s unfair to condemn an elderly man’s memory for a 48-year-old interview conducted during a very different era. In a statement issued Wednesday to Fox News, Wayne’s family says, “It’s unfair to judge someone on something that was written that he said nearly 50 years ago when the person is no longer here to respond.”
But that won’t wash. Wayne was a few weeks shy of his 64th birthday when the interview appeared in print. It was 1971, so the civil rights revolution had been going on for years; Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated three years before.
Wayne wasn’t expressing the tenor of the times — he was reacting to the advances being won by African Americans through demonstrations and legislation. His words already were retrograde when they were uttered. Wayne wasn’t an old conservative who hadn’t yet been “woke”; he had seen the future, and it put him into a racist rage.
In 2016, California Democrats defeated an effort to declare a John Wayne Day in the state over the same racist remarks from the Playboy interview.