African colonist's name to be removed from Vancouver public school
The Vancouver School Board has unanimously passed a motion to permanently remove a sign prominently bearing the name of a controversial British colonialist from L’École Bilingue elementary school.
The sign was originally a piece of the flooring from the old Cecil Rhodes school, which opened at the West 14 Avenue and Alder Street location in 1910.
School board chair Janet Fraser confirmed the sign would be removed during the summer months.
"At last night’s public meeting, the Board adopted the motion to remove the sign as we determined historical and racial wrongs by Cecil Rhodes are not reflective of the diverse and welcoming learning environment fostered by the District and L’École Bilingue school," she wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon.
Rhodes was a British politician and businessman who was heavily involved in South Africa during the latter half of the 19th century. He helped establish diamond mining giant De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. and served as prime minister of Cape Colony—present-day South Africa—between 1890 and 1896.
Rhodes died in 1902, and many contend his legacy is one of colonialism and imperialism, including school board trustee Jennifer Reddy.
"Any further upholding of that monument doesn’t help us demonstrate our commitment to equity, our commitment to reconciliation, to anti-black racism, and does make us complicit in the kind of history that Cecil Rhodes represents," Reddy told CTV News Vancouver’s Angela Jung on Monday. "That really isn’t aligned with our district values."
Reddy raised the motion at the last Vancouver School Board meeting about permanently removing the sign from L’École Bilingue.
“Our district has made a strong commitment to reconciliation, but also towards acknowledging and addressing anti-black racism,” she said, adding she believed Cecil Rhodes to be a father of apartheid, the system of institutionalized racism in South Africa that began in the 1940s.
Rhodes famously wrote of the British in his last will and testament: “I contend that we are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.”
L’École Bilingue principal Natalie Morissette said the decision to cover the sign in early June was made along with the school board. The school’s Parent Advisory Council had first raised the issue last year.
“I would say we need to rethink what this piece means as a community,” Morissette said in early June, noting the diversity of the students at the school.
Jonathan Smith, an English professor at Simon Fraser University, told CTV News earlier this month Rhodes was "allegedly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Africans."
The professor said he has yet to see an example of a statue being removed of a person who didn’t deserve it.
"People worry that this sort of thing is a slippery slope. Oh no, if we get rid of Cecil Rhodes who is next?" he said. "I have yet to see a case where there wasn’t a good justification for doing so."
With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Sheila Scott, Allison Hurst and Angela Jung.