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Oxford Students Want Statue of Cecil Rhodes Removed

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By ROBERT MACKEY NOV. 6, 2015

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    Hundreds of student protesters rallied at Oxford University’s Oriel College on Friday, calling for the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes, a past pupil and benefactor of the school who made his fortune in diamonds while helping Britain seize control of southern Africa in the late 19th century.

    The activists, who were inspired by a successful campaign to have a statue of Rhodes removed from the University of Cape Town in South Africa earlier this year, presented the provost of the college with a petition calling Rhodes, who served as prime minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896, “an architect of apartheid in Southern Africa.”

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    Yeah, yeah. I tried to get Cecil Rhodes's portrait removed from Oriel in 1985! https://t.co/deWBCBuXIN

    — John Foot (@footymac) Nov. 5, 2015

    The protesters argue that the statue, looking down on them from a building named for the benefactor who donated 2 percent of his fortune to his alma mater on his death in 1902, is “an open glorification of the racist and bloody project of British colonialism.”

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    #RhodesIsFalling pic.twitter.com/HEkZ6v5uIK

    — Ruby Seresin (@rubyseresin) Nov. 6, 2015

    Online, the activists documented their protest under the tags #RhodesMustFall and #RhodesIsFalling, borrowed from the campaign in Cape Town, where protesters celebrated the removal of a Rhodes statue from the campus in April.

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    In Oxford where ppl are massing at Oriel College to oppose the monument to colonialist Cecil Rhodes #RhodesMustFall pic.twitter.com/TVD8U1VTt1

    — Dan (@gosspol) Nov. 6, 2015
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    "The ability to consider Rhodes history and not violence is a privilege" #RhodesIsFalling pic.twitter.com/qMB0lMG5XZ

    — y rodrigues fowler (@yazzarf) Nov. 6, 2015
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    Chanting outside Oriel College at @RMF_Oxford at #RhodesMustFall protest pic.twitter.com/TtD7OA8VPO

    — Roné Mc Farlane (@RoneMcFarlane) Nov. 6, 2015
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    #RhodesMustFall is hearing testimonials from protesters of their experiences of racism at Oxford pic.twitter.com/iZDegFztCT

    — Cherwell (@Cherwell_Online) Nov. 6, 2015
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    "Cecil Rhodes was a terrorist. If that's hard for you to say then look at your Eurocentric views of what a terrorist is" #RhodesisFalling

    — Rhodes Must Fall Ox (@RMF_Oxford) Nov. 6, 2015
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    Activists demand recognition of legacy of colonialism at Oxford #RhodesMustFall #RhodesIsFalling #studentactivism pic.twitter.com/pWfAaLykF1

    — Gabrielle Newell (@GCNewell) Nov. 6, 2015
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    Video of students celebrating the removal of a Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town in April. News24, via YouTube Continue reading the main story

    [PICTURES] #RhodesHasFallen: The students take their moment. http://t.co/SJIM2iv6Pa pic.twitter.com/j2Ieu6svUA

    — The Daily VOX (@thedailyvox) April 11, 2015
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    This must be the fate of all remnants of criminal empires in Africa. #RhodesHasFallen pic.twitter.com/vKcHVhlsye

    — Diaspora Foundation (@diasporaIF) April 13, 2015

    In response to the protest, the school’s governing body said in a statement that it “is happy to engage with the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford movement on the important issues they have raised,” and “is reviewing how Cecil Rhodes’ donation to Oriel is marked, given the way his political legacy is now understood.”

    “The College draws a clear line between acknowledging the historical fact of Rhodes’ donation and in any way condoning his political views,” the administration added.

    Photo A screen shot from the Facebook page of Ntokozo Sbo Qwabe, an organizer of protests at Oxford University against a statue of Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist who left part of his fortune to the school. Credit Ntokozo Sbo Qwabe, via Facebook

    The response did not please Ntokozo Sbo Qwabe, a student from South Africa who has been protesting against the Rhodes statue since March, according to Oxford’s student newspaper, Cherwell.

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    Ntokozo Qwabe calls Oriel's response "offensive" and "violent".

    — Cherwell (@Cherwell_Online) Nov. 6, 2015

    Qualms about how Rhodes made his fortune are not new. His obituary in The Guardian, published on March 27, 1902, argued that, “led on by his special bent for territorial expansion — which took the grandiose shape of an ideal of British occupation of all Central Africa and a ‘Cape to Cairo railway’ — Rhodes was yet constantly concerned in financial schemes which implicated him with all sorts of unscrupulous spirits, with the result that he became in many respects as unscrupulous as they.”

    “At best his conception of civilisation was empirical, if not vulgar,” the newspaper added, “and in course of time most other ideals had for him to be sub-ordinated to that of keeping up dividends.”

    The movement at Oxford, where Rhodes scholars also study with money from Rhodes’s fortune, echoes similar debates at schools in the United States.

    At Amherst College, in Massachusetts, students have argued for and against replacing the school’s unofficial mascot, Lord Jeff — or Lord Jeffery Amherst, the 18th-century military commander the town was named for, who endorsed giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans.

    Students at Harvard Law School recently began a campaign, under the slogan Royall Must Fall, to change the school’s seal, which is the family coat of arms of Isaac Royall, a slaveholder who endowed the first professorship of law at Harvard.

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    Isaac Royall's coat-of-arms, (the three stacked wheat sheaves) which remain Harvard Law School's crest to this day is a badge of shame.#RMF

    — RoyallMustFall (@RoyallMustFall) Oct. 21, 2015

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    Daniel R. Coquillette, a visiting professor of legal history at Harvard, whose research into the law school’s founding helped inspire the campaign, told The Harvard Crimson that while Royall was “a coward, and a brutal slaveholder,” he was against changing the seal. The danger, he said, is that removing the crest could help obscure the uncomfortable truth about the school’s founding. It would be better, he argued, to “just deal with the fact that this guy founded the school and tell the truth about it.”

    A similar argument about the Rhodes statue was made to The Oxford Mail in July by Michelle Codrington, a British woman descended from slaves owned by Christopher Codrington, a plantation owner in Barbados whose fortune paid for the construction of Oxford’s Codrington Library after his death in 1710.

    “As a Codrington I like the fact that when some people refer to me they mention the Codrington Library built entirely on money gained through the slave trade,” she told the paper in July. “Although people might be surprised to learn of this it takes people back to the slave owning history of this country and reminds them of where the money came from to build many of their monuments.”

    A marble statue of Christopher Codrington, dressed like an ancient Roman, stands in the center of the library.

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