SACRAMENTO (CBSLA.com/AP) — What a California lawmaker intended as a benign resolution honoring a late, world-renowned movie icon exploded into an emotional debate over decades-old racist comments.
The state Assembly defeated the official ode to John Wayne Thursday after several legislators described statements he made about racial minorities and his support for the anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee and John Birch Society.
Known as “Duke,” a nickname he picked up as a boy in Glendale, Wayne grew into the star of movies including “The Alamo,” ”The Green Berets” and “True Grit,” for which he won an Academy Award, while portraying the gruff, rugged cowboys and brave soldiers who were his stock in trade.
Republican State Assemblyman Matthew Harper of Huntington Beach sought to declare May 26, 2016, as John Wayne Day to mark the day the actor was born.
“He had disturbing views towards race,” objected Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, leading off a 20-minute debate.
Alejo cited a 1971 interview with Playboy in which Wayne talked disparagingly about 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 told the magazine.
Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, who is black, said he found Wayne’s comments personally offensive.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, cited his comments defending white Europeans’ encroachment on American Indians who Wayne once said “were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”
Wayne is the latest deceased white icon to recently come under attack. Former President Andrew Jackson, a slave owner and Indian fighter, is being removed from the face of the $20 bill. Princeton University recently announced that former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s name will remain on its public policy school despite calls to remove it because he was a segregationist.
Harper’s resolution fell on a 35-20 vote to what Harper called “the orthodoxy of political correctness.”
“Opposing the John Wayne Day resolution is like opposing apple pie, fireworks, baseball, the Free Enterprise system and the Fourth of July!” he said later in a written statement.
Harper said he sought the resolution, ACR137, to keep up with a Texas resolution commemorating Wayne’s birthday a year ago.
He represents the legislative district that includes John Wayne Airport in Orange County. The airport, among the largest in California, was renamed after Wayne’s death in 1979 and hosts a nine-foot-tall statue of the actor.
The Airport might be thriving and there’s also a John Wayne postage stamp but for some that is where the honors end.
The vote to pass the resolution snagged just 35 votes, six short of the majority needed to pass, reported KCAL9’s Peter Daut.
In Beverly Hills, where a bronze sculpture honors the screen icon, Daut found many people with mixed opinions over whether the Duke should have a day.
“Why would you honor someone who’s negative and hateful against certain races?,” said Jay Akinshilo.
Others cited his screen work and said his acting should trump his comments as a citizen.
The fact of what he brought to cinema, I think, is more important as far as who he is and what he contributed,” said Ron McGill.
Daut reports John Wayne is getting his own day — in Texas — on May 26th.
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)