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John Wayne (1907 - 1979), US actor wearing a tan leather waistcoat, a pink shirt and a white neckerchief, in a studio portrait, against a light blue background, circa 1970. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
History - Science
For decades, John Wayne was one of Hollywood’s go-to guys for westerns and war movies, but his views on race were extremely controversial — even at the time. In 1971, Wayne said he “[believed] in white supremacy” and didn’t want to “turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks,” and in another interview, he said he did not feel guilty about America’s history of slavery, nor did he feel the U.S. was wrong in “taking this great country away” from Native Americans.
Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, Democratic lawmakers in California passed a resolution to change the name of the John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana to the Orange County Airport, due to Wayne's "racist and bigoted statements." Shortly after, Wayne's youngest son, Ethan Wayne, commented on the legacy that is clearly tarnished by the past controversy.
While Ethan, who currently heads John Wayne Enterprises, admitted that “the words spoken by John Wayne [...] caused pain and anger,” he insisted that his father was “not a racist,” adding that the words “pained him as well.” Ethan claimed that that the Duke cannot be considered a bigot, saying, “He hired and worked with people of all races, creeds, and sexual orientations.”
Ethan hypothesized that if his father were still alive, “He would have pulled those officers off of George Floyd because that was the right thing to do. He would stand for everyone's right to protest and work toward change." As of this writing, the John Wayne airport has yet to change its name, and a spokesperson made it clear that they have no intention to change it.