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John Wayne Day Proposal Rejected Over Racist Comments Made By The Actor

John Wayne in 1974, filming 'Brannigan' (Photo by McCarthy/Getty Images)
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Plans to declare May 26 as "John Wayne Day" were shot down by several California lawmakers who denounced comments once made by the late actor as racist. A proposal to memorialize the birthday of Wayne—known for his cowboy persona, both onscreen and off—was put to a vote by the state Assembly on Thursday by Republican Matthew Harper of Huntington Beach, according to the Sacramento Bee. And while the proposal was unanimously approved just three days before by the Assembly Rules Committee, several members of the state assembly took issue with statements made by the actor that they considered disparaging towards blacks and Native Americans. They also weren't thrilled that the actor—who died in 1979 and whose name and statue can be found at the Orange County airport—supported the anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee and John Birch Society.

“He had disturbing views towards race,” argued Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) in the debate leading up to the proposal's vote, which received 35 votes, six short of the required majority. Twenty members voted against the measure, while 25 refused to vote.

Alejo cited a 1971 Playboy interview in which Wayne is quoted as saying:

We can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the 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.
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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) also voted against the resolution, citing the interview where Wayne defends the United States' expansion onto Native American land:

I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that’s what you’re asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.

Harper decried the defeat of the "John Wayne Day" resolution as “the orthodoxy of political correctness,” according to CBS. He said that his proposal was inspired by one in Texas last year to dedicate May 26 as John Wayne Day, a measure that was approved in the Lone Star State.

In a statement after the vote, Harper added, “Opposing the John Wayne Day resolution is like opposing apple pie, fireworks, baseball, the Free Enterprise system and the Fourth of July!”