As of late, there’s been plenty of discussion regarding the possible renaming of John Wayne Airport. The name of the airport has come under renewed scrutiny in light of the anti-racism protests going on in the country, as Wayne previously issued racist remarks about people of color in a 1971 interview with Playboy. Now, in light of this controversy, the residents of Wayne’s hometown of Winterset, Iowa, are weighing in on the issue, as KCCI News reported.
Brian Downes, the executive director of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum in Winterset, said that the interview was from a different place in time and should be judged accordingly. Downes said, “I think all of us would have preferred it hadn’t of happened, but that’s not the same to say, ‘We apologized, he didn’t mean it.’ That would be disingenuous.” Downes added that he wishes that Wayne did not make those remarks and noted that this isn’t the first time that the interview has resurfaced. He added, “This is something that has been going a few years out there.”
Patricia Barker, who also works at the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, was in a similar boat to Downes. She said that it’s hard to believe that Wayne made those racist statements and that she understands why various tributes to the actor are being scrutinized in light of the resurfacing of the Playboy interview. Barker explained, “What happened back in the day is part of our history. We have to know where we come from to get better.” While she did express that she understands where people are coming from, she noted that she is unsure whether renaming the John Wayne Airport is the best idea. She added, “Tearing down a statue or tearing down a name is not going to change anything. We have to change as a people.”
On Friday, the Democratic Party of Orange County in California passed a resolution asking that Wayne’s name be removed from Orange County’s airport. They asked that the location’s title be changed back to its original name, Orange County Airport. This resolution was passed in light of the resurfacing of that aforementioned Playboy interview. During the 1971 interview, Wayne said that he believed “in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility,” adding, “I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.” The actor also said that he did not agree with slavery, but said, “I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves.” He also reportedly said disparaging remarks about Native Americans and used a homophobic slur.