Cecil Rhodes protest: Thousands renew calls for Oxford University to remove statue of controversial imperialist

Twenty-six councillors have signed letter demanding removal of monument to white imperialist ahead of protest on Tuesday

Vincent Wood
Tuesday 09 June 2020 19:26 BST
Protesters call for removal of Cecil Rhodes statue in Oxford

A majority of members of Oxford City Council have signed a letter urging Oxford University to immediately remove the statue of white imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

Twenty-six councillors have signed a letter saying Oriel College’s monument – an early architect of South African apartheid – was not compatible with the city’s “commitment to anti-racism”.

Campaigners have reignited the campaign to remove the statue amid increasing calls to remove the legacy of racism and colonialism from institutions.

A peaceful demonstration is planned in front of the Rhodes statue on Tuesday, part of the city’s response to the growing Black Lives Matter movement which began in the US and saw more than 200 marches take place across the UK over the weekend.

The statue of Rhodes, who argued of the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon master race, has remained a point of contention outside the college since 2015 when a campaign demanded the figure fall from its position overlooking Oxford’s High Street.

At the time the university refused to remove the sculpture - instead opting to add “a clear historical context to explain why it is there”.

However calls to rid the building of the statue have been reinvigorated by a growing push to drive out systemic racism - sparked by protests originating in the US following the death of George Floyd at the hand of a policeman.

A petition signed by thousands of activists said: “We are reigniting the calls for the statue to be removed, as soon as possible.

“As long as the statue stands the University is only alienating those of whom Rhodes' beliefs have persecuted and oppressed to this very day”.

The Rhodes Must Fall Oxford campaign group, alongside other student groups, argue that the university has “failed to address its institutional racism” and the impact on students and the city.

An open letter from campaigners to the university's vice-chancellor says the institution has only made “inconsequential inroads” into tackling the material legacy of imperialism, adding it “is not enough”.

It comes after a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down and thrown into Bristol Harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday.

Violence and vandalism - in particular the removal of the Colston statue - have since been decried by the government. Home Secretary Priti Patel told the Commons: “It's not for mobs to tear down statues and cause criminal damage in our street”, while Boris Johnson said in a pre-recorded statement he would not “support or indulge those who break the law... or desecrate public monuments”.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran, who is MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said: “The statues of white supremacists and slave merchants should not still be standing in our cities. That's why the statue of Cecil Rhodes must come down.

“I'm not endorsing vigilante action, but I would urge Oriel College in the strongest terms to think about what message this statue sends in 2020, and to remove it.”

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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