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Renaming John Wayne Airport

By: Jiaqi Zhou

Residents of Orange County are asking to change the name of John Wayne Airport, located in Orange County, due to Wayne’s controversial reputation as a white supremacist. 

John Wayne was the beloved actor known in the ‘50s as the cowboy Duke. The John Wayne Airport started operation in 1941 and was formerly named Orange County Airport. In 1979, the year Wayne passed away, the Orange County Board of Supervisors renamed the airport in honor of the actor. Three years later, a bronze statue of Wayne as “Duke” was installed at the main terminal of the airport.

Although Wayne gained his fame as an actor, his influence extended beyond screens. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, posthumous President Medal of Freedom by former President Jimmy Carter and the Academy Award for Best Actor among other accolades. Numerous public landmarks were named after him as well.

Regardless of Wayne’s extraordinary recognition and achievement, the people of Orange County have been asking to change the name of the airport and remove the statue because of his public views on civic topics. 

An interview published by Playboy Magazine in 1971 recorded Wayne’s statements about black people, Native Americans and the LGBTQ+ community.

“I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” Wayne said while talking about the colored roles in Hollywood. “There’s no doubt that 10% of the population is black… [But] there isn’t necessarily going to be 10% of the grips or sound-men who are black, because more than likely, 10% haven’t trained themselves for that type of work.”

Despite growing up and starting his career in Westerns, Wayne denied having empathy with American Indians.

“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,” Wayne said.

Wayne believed that “perverted movies” should be banned in order to preserve proper family values. When the interviewer asked for his definition of “perverted movies,” Wayne answered, “‘Easy Rider,’ ‘Midnight Cowboy’ — that kind of thing. Wouldn’t you say that the wonderful love of those two men in ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ a story about two f —, qualifies?”

Wayne elevated his role beyond an actor into an American icon that represented that society’s values and ideals. He did this by choosing scripts that fit his personal character. 

Wayne displayed such character during a conversation with actor Kirk Douglas which was recorded in the book “John Wayne: The Life and Legend” written by Scott Eyman about the role in a Vincent Van Gogh film.

“We got to play strong, tough characters. Not these weak queers,” he said. 

The Wayne family defended him through Fox News. “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.”

“This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible or immoral to enjoy westerns and war movies starring John Wayne; that’s a personal choice. But it certainly undermines any justification for his name and image to adorn a civic facility,” Michael Hiltzi wrote in Los Angeles Times

In a petition on renaming the John Wayne Airport, Lala Washington, the petition initiator, said, “although the renaming of the airport to John Wayne Airport was agreed by the County Board in 1979, it is important for residents to synchronize the current value of diversity and tolerance of California with the landmark.”

Any possible changes for renaming the John Wayne Airport would need approval from the county. According to the OC Register, former Orange County Supervisor and current California State Senator John Moorlach and OC Supervisor Chris Norby support the idea, while California State Senator Pat Bates is opposed; they have not heard back from former supervisors Bill Campbell and Janet Nguyen. 

As of Oct. 22, there is no official statement from the county about decisions on renaming the John Wayne Airport.