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Should a Racist Actor Have an Airport Named After Him?

Should a Racist Actor Have an Airport Named After Him?
Jackie Reddy

He may have been one of the biggest stars of his era, but it’s being debated by news outlets in California if keeping John Wayne’s connection with John Wayne Airport (SNA) is still appropriate, given his outspokenly racist views. Despite this questioning, no change of name appears to be forthcoming.

John Wayne will forever be an iconic star of the Western film genre, but, there has been some debate about if–given the actor’s known views on race and sexual orientation–it’s still appropriate to keep his name attached to John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County.

The question was first broached in a Los Angeles Times op-ed back in February of this year, which led to a second article by Orange County Register columnist David Whiting late last month. Today, the San Francisco Gate, based a few hundred miles away from the Los Angeles-adjacent airport was the third voice to chime in and ask if John Wayne Airport should be renamed.

They are all referring to a now-infamous interview given by John Wayne to Playboy in 1971 in which he calls the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy perverted because it’s “a story about two f—,” condones white supremacy “until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” and says that he doesn’t feel like the “so-called stealing” of Native American land was wrong because “the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to read on, you can do so here but be warned, it contains a lot of hot takes.

In his Orange County Register article, Whiting acknowledges that Wayne was a “complicated” and “complex” person. “But,” he added, “when it comes to plastering someone’s name on an international airport that sees nearly 1 million passengers a month, there must be careful, considered and continued thought.

“When I drive by or fly out of John Wayne Airport, a place most of us simply refer to as ‘John Wayne,’ I don’t always think about the actor and his dark statements. But when I do, I am troubled.

“For many people, it’s worse. Being forced to buy and carry around an airline ticket that unavoidably honors someone’s racism is an insult,” he explained.

But as the SFGATE reports, despite the on-going concerns over the airport’s name, there are no signs that authorities at the facility are considering a renaming.

View Comments (57)

57 Comments

  1. Moyerclan

    October 1, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    If we are going to get offended by every stinking bad part of someone, to the point of overlooking their accomplishments we’ll never have anyone’s name on anything!
    Some say Martin Luther King had affairs outside of marriage….should we go renaming all the streets, buildings, etc? No.

    Take it with a grain of salt….none of us is perfect.

  2. strickerj

    October 1, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    This is silly… practically everyone from more than a generation or two ago had views that would be considered politically incorrect today. Might as well not name anything after anyone, in case they become controversial.

  3. lianluo

    October 1, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    Moyerclan: Agreed.

  4. sdsearch

    October 1, 2019 at 8:13 pm

    One way to avoid this problem: Name airports after fictional characters from the past. Their entire past is well-known (to enough people), so nothing controversial is likely to revealed about them, the way it can be for real live humans. If there’s something controversial about them, it’s likely to be well known already.

    The Sherlock Holmes Airport. The Mickey Mouse Airport. The Big Bird Airport. The Charlie Brown Airport. The Huckleberry Finn Airport. The Snow White Airport. The Harry Potter Airport. The Scarlett O’Hara Airport. The Rocky Balboa Airport. The Dorothy Gale Airport. The Paul Bunyan Airport. The Mad Hatter Airport.

  5. c502cid

    October 1, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    I still call it Santa Ana, which is what everyone called it before it was named John Wayne. Old habits die hard.

  6. Occupationalhazard

    October 2, 2019 at 12:05 am

    So some guy who died 40 years ago wasn’t “woke” enough by today’s standards? Color me (not) amazed.

    I don’t care whether John Wayne has and airport named after him or not, but the larger danger here is, why are we judging someone based on the worst thing they ever said/thought/did instead of the totality of their life/work/whatever? That’s hardly fair.

  7. alexmyboy

    October 2, 2019 at 5:25 am

    No, he was jerk

  8. fotographer

    October 2, 2019 at 5:39 am

    people in general need to grow up

  9. 7Continents

    October 2, 2019 at 5:42 am

    Add me to the list above. If we’re going to be offended by one statement or another from the past 5, 10, 25, 50 or even 100 years ago, the we might as well just break every monument and wipe the last names off every placard so we won’t know exactly who said what.

  10. downinit

    October 2, 2019 at 5:47 am

    At first, I thought they were talking about Reagan. But if an airport can be named after a racist and homophobic President, who also happened to be a terrible actor, why not have an airport named after another racist actor? After all, racism was a common trait back then, and sadly, not much has changed since then.

  11. MaldivesFreak

    MaldivesFreak

    October 2, 2019 at 5:55 am

    More un-needed PC BS to deal with. Like the posters above have said, just don’t name anything with anyone’s name cos someone’s bound to get offended. Oh wait, there’s an alternative. Why don’t they just do it like they do in Asia with public schools; Number 3 Middle School. Number 8 High School etc etc. Oh but wait, that means we’ll have to leave out ’13’ to avoid offending the superstitious and ‘4’ to please the Chinese…..

  12. chrisfwm

    October 2, 2019 at 5:59 am

    What accomplishment? He was an actor, had three wives, did no notable charitable work. Exactly what made him a good candidate for the naming of the airport?

    name it Marylin Monroe/Julia Child/Jerry Garcia/Antony Kennedy/Robert Redford/ Earl Warren airport, and its still miles better than John Wayne.

  13. jctech

    October 2, 2019 at 6:07 am

    I suppose they are going to reprint the banknotes to have PC presidents on them

  14. Joan Johnson

    October 2, 2019 at 6:23 am

    So exactly what did John Wayne achieve that warrants an airport named after him? I’m sure there are many other who made much more significant contributions to society. His views were unacceptable in his own time let alone this one. However, it is unlikely the name will be changed so it is just up to people to insert their own epitaph for John Wayne. I’m sure we can be very imaginative.

  15. 757FO

    October 2, 2019 at 7:13 am

    I personally never liked John Wayne, and always saw him as a fake hero, would could never life up to the image he portrayed in many of his movies, as a hero. I also despise racism of any kind. Having said that., my only issue with SNA is the time I busted the noise abatement procedure, and got a call from my chief pilot about it.

  16. chavala

    October 2, 2019 at 8:35 am

    I’m all for it. Why should we have some racist, long-dead actor’s name on an airport? He does not deserve a legacy. For those who say “everyone was like that back then”, well, you were all wrong and also don’t deserve an airport!

  17. chavala

    October 2, 2019 at 8:41 am

    and P.S. before anyone comments they should read the interview. it’s pretty sick

  18. GetSetJetSet

    October 2, 2019 at 9:58 am

    Wah wah wah, let’s erase any part of history that isn’t “woke” enough. Time to demolish the Jefferson Memorial, he owned slaves!

  19. justpassinthru

    October 2, 2019 at 10:35 am

    It is amazing how much we all like to hear our own opinions on things that we really don’t have any stake in…if you feel strongly devote some real time and effort into the renaming (or into the keeping the name effort).

  20. jrpallante

    October 2, 2019 at 10:53 am

    SDSearch has an interesting idea, but fictional characters are not beyond reproach. Remember that Sherlock Holmes was a drug addict, Scarlett O’Hara was a slave owner, Mickey Mouse practiced beastiality, Harry Potter routinely flies without a pilot license, and Dorothy Gale continually flouted leash laws.

  21. AADC10

    October 2, 2019 at 11:05 am

    SNA should have never been named after John Wayne (born Marion Morrison) as he was well known for being a racist at the time the airport was renamed but the old white men in Orange County wanted to give a big F.U. to minorities moving into the area. However, Ronald Reagan was even worse. Being a racist and making some racist movies is one thing but having racist policies that had a strong, negative impact on the underprivileged nationwide is far worse. How about naming SNA after native son Dick Nixon?

    The way to avoid this is to go back to primarily naming airports after the city they at least allegedly serve. They can have some sub-name but it should be secondary. How often does anyone refer to BWI as Thurgood Marshall? This may be a bit of a hassle in places like New York and Chicago that have two airports but JFK and ORD have long established location names, Idlewild and Orchard.

  22. rthib

    October 2, 2019 at 11:09 am

    “It is amazing how much we all like to hear our own opinions on things that we really don’t have any stake in”

    Who do you think pays for all the new signage when names are changed for no reason.
    Also curious what airports we should rename #LIT #MeToo #$850,000 payment

  23. snidely

    October 2, 2019 at 11:26 am

    I’m old enuf to remember what a bad human being he was. However, remember in those days Orange County was significantly to the right. Home of the John Birch Society. Virtually no minorities “allowed”.
    BTW – Is it “Hoover” Dam or Boulder dam? Mt. McKinley or Mt. Denali? (Now the park is McKinley, mtn. Denali.

  24. snidely

    October 2, 2019 at 11:50 am

    People forget that Lindbergh was scheduled to speak at a rally at M. Square Garden on 12/7/41 in support of the Axis (Nazis).

  25. cmd320

    October 2, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    California has far more important things to worry about than changing the names of its airports based on present issues people find trendy.

  26. MimiB22

    October 2, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Name airports after the cities or areas they serve. Eazy peazy and no one is offended.

    As for Wayne, my Dad, a true old school conservative who had high regard for character, met Wayne once at a Republican event in California and thought at first they shared views, but Wayne made some ugly racist comments and Dad was offended by the actor’s ugly attitude and easy insults. He told me, some years later, that he learned actors, celebrities and probably politicians, didn’t deserve our admiration or honors, or…. airport namings.

  27. OUTraveling

    October 2, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    Muhammad Ali airport needs to be renamed to Indiana Jones Airport.

  28. Surfwriter

    October 2, 2019 at 6:56 pm

    Personally, I’m tired of political correctness and the social whiners who want to impose their precious viewpoints and rewrite history to suit their blinkered ideologies. Most of the people who promote this kind of rubbish weren’t even born when John Wayne was alive. So please get some life experience and historical perspective before sounding off. Thank you.

  29. midorosan

    October 2, 2019 at 9:33 pm

    Did anyone of you read The RiverWar by Winston Churchill? His comments about muslims would create a real problem if he made them today the sad part is that everything he said then came true.

  30. knav2013

    October 2, 2019 at 10:22 pm

    chrisfwm and Joan Johnson: both correct. I suppose, if we were try really hard, we could come up with ‘he promoted free speech by belittling the other’.

    The U.S has/have had way more deserving actors, musicians, scientists etc.

  31. D3KingAmerican

    October 3, 2019 at 5:27 am

    YES. John Wayne was a good American.

  32. knav2013

    October 3, 2019 at 10:10 pm

    @D3KingAmerican: We can always focus on only the good, forgetting ‘…the bad, and the ugly’ of a person.

  33. horseymike

    October 4, 2019 at 5:19 am

    everyone is a racist….according to a handful of crybabies who do not know how to say anything else.

  34. meunger11

    October 4, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    The Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean have killed too many people. We should rename those oceans Ocean1 and Ocean2, because I’m offended by the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean for all the lives they have taken. While we are at it, all countries that ever killed anyone should be renamed to Country 1, Country 2…and so on…

  35. Gynob001

    October 4, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    What is wrong in naming an airport after the city in which it is located? Jr, Sr, the 2nd etc if there are more than one city with the same name. John Wayne- poor actor and I can’t figure out how he represented USA?

  36. CaliforniaSteve

    October 4, 2019 at 6:05 pm

    Disclaimer: I live in the other part of the State.

    If the people of Orange County want to rename the airport, let them. People are going to call it what they want anyway. Just like at SFO, where Terminal One was renamed Harvey Milk Terminal 1 not long ago. People are still going to call it Terminal One or T1 or whatever they called it before.

    I agree with a post I saw above. Rename all airports for the city or the county they’re in. Rename all streets with only letters and numbers. Same with schools. If we’re going to go fully crazy on renaming things, let’s go all out and do away with naming things after anyone. Undoubtedly, someone, somewhere is going to be offended and God forbid (can I say God?) that anyone feel bad about anything.

  37. bigbuy

    October 4, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    I don’t think most folks know the difference between racism and bigotry. Frankly I am beyond tired of people throwing the word around every time they get offended by something they don’t agree with.

  38. bigbuy

    October 4, 2019 at 7:55 pm

    To 757FO.
    What the hell does what you do for money have to do with this discussion?

  39. m44

    October 4, 2019 at 9:18 pm

    No jerks names on anything. A single jerk normalizes other jerks. Take it down. And do not forget jerk Columbus.

  40. Dublin_rfk

    October 4, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    Considering this a a kalifornia issue consider it solved! Thirty or forty years from now when that actually get around to acting on today’s imaginary issue they will be at a loss as to why they have to waste their time. Or may by then governor moonbeam’s rocket train will be running between somewhere in the desert east of LA to somewhere east of San Fran FlakeO (San Francisco).

  41. OCJohn

    October 5, 2019 at 5:30 am

    JFK had almost identical views, abused drugs and had sexual trysts in the White House. He just did not spout about it in interviews to the press. No one seeks to rename that airport.

  42. cairns

    October 5, 2019 at 6:09 am

    The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.

    Obviously the headline writer is not aware of Shakespeare.

  43. knav2013

    October 5, 2019 at 6:46 am

    The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are good oceans.

  44. sfoeuroflyer

    October 5, 2019 at 7:31 am

    Are we tired yet of digging into the lives of those from other eras and finding things to judge by today’s standards???? Basically “show me the person and I will find the flaw” is what is going on. Time to ignore this stuff.

  45. closecover

    October 5, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    First priority should be removing the name of Charles Lindbergh from the airport in San Diego. He was an anti-semite. Stone cold.

    One may also argue that he was a traitor as well.

  46. JackE

    October 5, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    And shall we take MLK Jr’s name off all public buildings?

  47. simpleflyer

    October 5, 2019 at 4:34 pm

    People start having new associations with a name. It becomes just the airport where one met one’s future spouse, or where one first saw the USA, or whatever. The person themselves is often not what comes to people’s mind.

  48. knav2013

    October 6, 2019 at 1:51 am

    those days pretty much everyone was saying the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy was perverted because it’s “a story about two f—,”. John Wayne was just saying what everyone was thinking.

  49. Superjeff

    October 6, 2019 at 9:12 am

    this whole thread is ridiculous. Most people commenting above probably weren’t around when John Wayne was alive. The very title of this article is a joke and shows the bias of whomever wrote it. Don’t waste our time with drivel.

  50. kvom

    October 6, 2019 at 9:15 am

    @sd search

    There is already a Charlie Brown airport (FTY), although it’s officially Fulton County Airport-Brown Field.

  51. Crazy Dave

    October 6, 2019 at 6:02 pm

    Is this lady for real??

  52. knav2013

    October 7, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    @Crazy Dave:
    More real than some twitter accounts.

  53. knav2013

    October 7, 2019 at 11:03 pm

    We need to show more compassion to the victims on the receiving end of his comments. Here’s a little story….About twenty years ago I visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, in Washington D.C. At that time it housed ‘Enola Gay’ the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber that bombed hiroshima. Surprisingly the plane was displayed towards the back of the museum. During that visit, while talking with a local, I learnt that it used to be displayed at the front, but many Japanese tourists visiting the museum had become very emotional when they saw this monstrosity right at the entrance. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t forget the past, but don’t also forget the people (living now) that were affected by the past. They don’t need to be reminded of our misdemeanors.

  54. Long Zhiren

    October 9, 2019 at 11:39 am

    How about ending naming airports after the cities they are in because the cities’ namesakes are always associated with something? Santa Ana and San Francisco are both associated with a religious organization that was involved in the Inquisitions and pedophile issues.
    And what’s wrong with using longitude and latitude of any airport you want to use instead of a name? Until you realize that longitude and latitude have their origins at Greenwich and therefore the megalomaniacal conquests of an empire?
    And what about your own name?

  55. Tailgater

    October 11, 2019 at 8:45 am

    Did John Wayne actually violate civil rights laws. If not, this is a free speech country and If we backtrack and review comments make decades ago, won’t this, eventually lead to some reticent to exercise free speech today? Were not pro-athletes of the era complicit by playing in an all-white, no gay league? Do we require that autos from the 60’s still on the raod be retrofitted with airbags today? It was a different era and different attitude.

  56. FlyingNone

    October 13, 2019 at 10:54 am

    I think that a DEAD actor who lived in a totally different time (as millions of others did) should not be held accountable for what was going on then and yes, should have (retain) an airport named after him.

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