Please Note: This post originally appeared July 7, 2020
We recently posted an item that described a non-binding resolution passed by the Orange County (Calif.) Democratic Party calling for the removal of John Wayne’s name and statue from the popular airport in Santa Ana. We also linked to an opinion piece in The Voice of OC that supported that resolution. Both calls for the removal of Wayne’s name and imagery cited a controversial 1971 Wayne interview published in Playboy magazine, in which he made comments that by today’s standards seem bigoted.
But an opinion article ("John Wayne Was Flawed, But He Stood for Freedom, Not Racism") published on July 3 in the Orange County Register, the leading daily newspaper in the county, takes a contrary position, defending Wayne. The article, written by Susan Shelley, an editorial writer and opinion columnist for the Southern California News Group, opines that a 50-year-old interview with a man born in 1907 is an unsound rationale to besmirch an entire life and career. And in fact, according to Shelley, the underlying reason that some want to discredit Wayne is not because of any perceived bigotry but because of the actor’s staunch anti-communism. To describe Shelley’s argument further would only serve to undermine her own well-stated position. We urge you to read her piece.
Our opinion: John Wayne made a comment that by today’s standards is revolting, but you would be hard pressed to find statements from anyone who knew Wayne saying that he was a racist. While we do not condone racism or bigotry in any form, we also believe that the tenor of our current times, in which the reputations even of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln are maligned, has caused a sometimes violent over-reaction to any perceived prejudice. Decisions to topple statues, rename buildings, erase history, or put a black mark across someone’s life work because of a single comment should be addressed in a calm, well-considered manner—and not because an angry mob armed with torches and pitchforks clamors at the gates.