Crowds gather at Oxford to demand removal of Cecil Rhodes statue

Statue of slaveholder Robert Milligan removed from outside Museum of London

Up to a thousand people have gathered in Oxford to demand the removal of a statue outside Oriel College of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes as councils across Britain consider removing statues to figures involved in the slave trade.

A statue of slaveholder Robert Milligan was removed from outside the Museum of London Docklands on Monday after the city's mayor, Sadiq Khan, said all statues with links to slavery should be taken down.

The museum said the monument to Milligan, who owned sugar plantations in Jamaica where hundreds of slaves worked, had long stood uncomfortably outside.

“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,” it said.


Students at Oxford have campaigned for years to have Rhodes's statue removed but Oriel College, under pressure from donors and alumni, has refused to move it to a museum. Neil Misra, vice-president of the Oxford Student Union for graduates and a member of Oriel College, described the statue as repugnant.

“It is the student union’s position that such a racist and imperialist symbol has no place on the front facade of Oriel College. The statue is an affront to our students of colour and our university community,” he said.

Rhodes, who believed in the superiority of the "Anglo-Saxon race", was one of the most prominent 19th century British imperialists in Africa, exploiting the diamond mines of southern Africa and founding Rhodesia, which was named after him. In a statement on Tuesday, Oriel College said it was committed to fighting prejudice and championing equal opportunities.

“We believe Black Lives Matter and support the right to peaceful protest. The power of education is a catalyst for equality and inclusiveness. We understand that we are, and we want to be, a part of the public conversation about the relationship between the study of history, public commemoration, social justice and educational equality. As a college, we continue to debate and discuss the issues raised by the presence on our site of examples of contested heritage relating to Cecil Rhodes,” it said.

Statue review

Manchester council said it would review all the public statues in the city following the toppling on Sunday of a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. Labour leader Keir Starmer, who condemned the way the Colston statue was removed but said he was glad it was gone, was pictured on Tuesday kneeling in solidarity with anti-racism protesters.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Boris Johnson discussed the protests and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“He said those who lead and govern simply cannot ignore the depth of emotion that has been triggered. He said there was an undeniable feeling of injustice and that people from black and minority ethnic groups do face discrimination, in education, in employment and in the application of criminal law,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.

“He said we are a much, much less racist society than we were, but we must also frankly acknowledge that there is so much more to do in eradicating prejudice and creating opportunity. Cabinet reiterated its commitment to that effort.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times