Huge crowds of Black Lives Matter protesters have gathered outside Oriel College at the University of Oxford this evening to campaign for a statue of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes to be torn down.
The demonstration has been organised by the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford campaign group and comes after activists identified 60 UK statues they want removed for ‘celebrating slavery and racism’ as councils and museums rushed to bring down their controversial monuments after Edward Colston’s was toppled in Bristol.
At tonight’s Oxford protest, organisers placed chalk crosses on the floors in either side of the street outside the entrance to the college, to enforce social distancing.
The crowd took to their knees for eight minutes 46 seconds, to reflect the time Mr Floyd, a father-of-two, spent with a police officer kneeling on his neck which killed him in America last month.
Hours before the rally began Oxford City Council’s leader Susan Brown wrote to Oriel College inviting them to apply for planning permission to remove the statue, after 26 councillors signed a letter saying it is ‘incompatible’ with the city’s ‘commitment to anti-racism’.
Councillor Brown said: ‘Typically such actions are only allowed in the most exceptional of circumstances. But these are exceptional circumstances, and as a city council we are keen to work with Oriel to help them find the right balance between the laws that protect our historic buildings and the moral obligation to reflect on the malign symbolism of this statue.’
Oriel College has said it will ‘continue to debate’ the issue – but did not commit to removing it.
Ndjodi Ndeunyema, an Oxford University law student and a former Rhodes scholar, organised tonight’s Oxford rally after starting the Rhodes Must Fall campaign for its removal five years ago, and said today: ‘The statue remaining is an affront on the university’s support for movements such as Black Lives Matter. Rhodes is not worth of veneration or glorification because of the racism and subjugation he represents’.
Some of Briton’s most famous people are on the hit list revealed today including slave-trading West India Docks founder Robert Milligan at the Museum of London, the Edinburgh statue of former Home Secretary Henry Dundas who delayed the abolition of slavery, and a statue of Sir Francis Drake on Plymouth Hoe.
The interactive map, called ‘topple the racists’, was set up by the Stop Trump Coalition in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and lists plaques and monuments in more than 30 towns and cities across the UK. The online list is unregulated and can be added to by the public.
And this afternoon, amid growing pressure to act, the Museum of London has moved to take down the giant bronze figure of plantation and slave owner Robert Milligan outside.
A spokesman said: ‘The Museum of London recognises that the monument is part of the ongoing problematic regime of white-washing history, which disregards the pain of those who are still wrestling with the remnants of the crimes Milligan committed against humanity. We are currently working with a consortium to remove this statue’.
This evening in London there will be a commemoration event, organised by Stand Up To Racism, to mark George Floyd’s funeral in Houston, Texas, with police forming a ring of steel around statues including Sir Winston Churchill’s in case it is attacked again.