John Wayne’s 1971 Playboy magazine interview has placed the legendary actor in the crosshairs of today’s cancel culture social justice warriors. Activists demand that his name be removed from an Orange County, California, airport.
What did Wayne say 49 years ago? He said: “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 added, “I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago, these people were slaves.”
Wayne’s son Ethan does not defend his father’s words, but asks for perspective: “There’s no excuse for the words he said. It was 1971; we used different words back then. It was a different time.”
Does this new standard apply, for example, to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.? King wrote an advice column carried by the popular Black monthly magazine, Ebony. A closeted gay teenager wrote him:
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Question: “My problem is different from the ones most people have. I am a boy, but I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don’t want my parents to know about me. What can I do? Is there any place where I can go for help?”
Answer: “Your problem is not at all an uncommon one. However, it does require careful attention. The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired. Your reasons for adopting this habit have now been consciously suppressed or unconsciously repressed. Therefore, it is necessary to deal with this problem by getting back to some of the experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit. In order to do this I would suggest that you see a good psychiatrist who can assist you in bringing to the forefront of conscience all of those experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit. You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognise the problem and have a desire to solve it.”
For this advice, which today would be called offensive and homophobic, should we cancel King?
Recall the furor when President Donald Trump reportedly referred to Haiti and some African countries as “s–hole countries.” President John Kennedy, according to former New York Times investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, made a similar remark. In “The Dark Side of Camelot,” Hersh described an angry Kennedy reacting to a request from a man who had not supported his election yet nevertheless wanted a high-profile diplomatic assignment in the Kennedy administration. The president exploded, “I’m going to f– him,” adding, “I’m going to send him to one of those boogie republics in Central Africa.” Boogie republics?
What about Kennedy’s treatment of Sammy Davis Jr.? The popular entertainer campaigned tirelessly for JFK in 1960, even agreeing to postpone his wedding to a white actress to avoid alienating potential Kennedy voters. Burt Boyar, Davis’ biographer, said that when Davis got married following Kennedy’s election, Kennedy rewarded him by disinviting Davis from attending, let alone performing at, the inaugural.
Downtown Atlanta prominently displays a statue of Andrew Young, the former Atlanta mayor and the first Black ambassador to the United Nations. A friend and colleague of MLK, Young was with King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where King was assassinated. Young later became a spokesperson for a Walmart advocacy group. In a 2006 interview with a Black newspaper, Young addressed the complaint that Walmart displaces mom and pop stores, many of which are owned by Arabs:
“Well, I think they should; they ran the mom and pop stores out of my neighborhood. But you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us — selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs. Very few Black people own these stores.” Young later apologized, but Walmart dropped him as a spokesperson. Should his statue be torn down?
Harry Truman often referred to Jews as “k–s” and New York City as “k–town.” In a 1911 letter to his future wife, the future president wrote: “Uncle Will says that the Lord made a white man from dust, a n— from mud, then he threw up what was left and it came down a Chinaman. He does hate Chinese and Japs. So do I. It is race prejudice, I guess. But I am strongly of the opinion Negroes ought to be in Africa, yellow men in Asia and white men in Europe and America.” But, as president, Truman supported the creation of the modern state of Israel, and his support was crucial.
Robert Kennedy, as attorney general, authorized wiretaps on Martin Luther King Jr., a request made by the notorious FBI head, J. Edgar Hoover.
How far does this cancel culture purge go, and who’s next?
Larry Elder is a bestselling author and nationally syndicated radio talk show host. His latest book, “The New Trump Standard,” is available in paperback from Amazon.com and for Nook, Kindle, iBooks and GooglePlay. To find out more about Larry Elder, or become an “Elderado,” visit www.LarryElder.com. Follow Larry on Twitter @LarryElder.