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Leaders want John Wayne name, statue gone from Orange County airport

In 1971, Wayne said that although he didn't condone slavery, "I don't feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves."
John Wayne Airport Statue
The statue of John Wayne at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Calif., on Sept. 25, 2019.Leonard Ortiz / Orange County Register via Getty Images file

The Democratic Party of Orange County, California, is pushing to remove John Wayne's name and statue from the county's airport because of racist and bigoted comments the film legend made.

The Democratic Party of Orange County passed a resolution last week condemning "white supremacist, anti-LGBT and anti-Indigenous views" Wayne made in a 1971 interview.

The resolution asks the county's Board of Supervisors to restore the international airport's original name: Orange County Airport.

"Orange County is now a diverse region far different from the time when John Wayne was chosen as namesake for the airport," the resolution states. It cites a recent annual survey that says 79 percent of respondents see the county's increasing ethnic diversity as "a source of great strength."

"An international airport that welcomes millions of people each year should not be named for someone whose beliefs oppose our nation's values of equal opportunity and justice for all," said Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County.

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The effort is part of "a national movement to remove white supremacist symbols and names" that is "reshaping American institutions, monuments, businesses, nonprofits, sports leagues and teams, as 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, and the removal of racist symbols provides a necessary process for communities to remember historic acts of violence and recognize victims of oppression," the resolution says.

Politics in the county, which for decades was a Republican stronghold, have shifted in the last year. Data from the Orange County Registrar of Voters shows that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, 607,024 to 567,665.

Wayne, a longtime resident of Orange County, died in 1979 at 72.

In April 2016, a resolution to honor Wayne in California was shot down in the state Assembly after critics expressed concern about bigoted statements he had made against Black people, Native Americans and members of the LGBTQ community. A Republican Assembly member had sought to declare May 26, 2016, as John Wayne Day to mark the day the actor was born.

In a 1971 interview, Wayne told Playboy magazine: "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."

He also said that although he didn't condone slavery, "I don't feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves."

Wayne called movies such as "Easy Rider" and "Midnight Cowboy" perverted and used a gay slur to refer to the two main characters of the latter film.

Asked whether he felt any empathy toward American Indians, Wayne said: "I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that's what you're asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival."

He added, "There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves."