A group of councillors has backed the campaign to remove a statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes and called on Oxford University to “decolonise”.
Twenty-six councillors – more than half of members at Oxford City Council – signed a letter saying the figure at Oriel College was “incompatible” with the city’s “commitment to anti-racism”.
A protest has been organised by the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The college has been asked to comment.
One of Oxford’s two MPs has also joined calls to remove the Rhodes statue, which have reignited after the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th Century slave trader, was toppled in Bristol on Sunday.
Campaigners have said Rhodes, a 19th Century businessman and politician in southern Africa, represented white supremacy and is steeped in colonialism and racism.
The councillors said in the letter that the “city’s public art and monuments should reflect its values”.
“The presence of this statue on our high street is incompatible with our city’s proud internationalist heritage and commitment to anti-racism,” added the letter, which was signed by most of Labour’s 34 councillors on the 48-seat council.
City council leader Susan Brown did not sign the letter with her Labour colleagues but tweeted saying she had “great sympathy” with the campaign.
She urged the college to apply to the council for permission to remove the statue, which she said was “listed”.
Oriel College decided not to remove the statue in High Street in 2016 and said the figure “was a reminder of the complexity of history and of the legacies of colonialism”.
It denied claims previously that donors threatened to withdraw more than £100m of funding if the statue was removed.
Femi Nylander, Rhodes Must Fall campaigner, told the BBC the university needed to improve its representation of black students, “decolonise” its curriculum and remove the statue.
“They should not be continuing to celebrate this man,” he added. “Having a statue is a celebration.”
‘Must come down’
In an open letter to the university’s vice-chancellor Louise Richardson, a host of Oxford student groups and organisations said the university had “failed to address its institutional racism” and set out a series of demands to “make upholding anti-racist values a reality”.
Thames Valley Police said it was “committed to facilitating a peaceful protest” and said it was “working constructively with organisers”.
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat Oxford West and Abingdon MP, said the Rhodes statue “must come down” but said she did not endorse “vigilante action”.
Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor and Oxford East MP, did not say definitively whether the statue should be removed.
The university and Oriel College have not responded to requests for comment.
Who was Cecil Rhodes?
- Imperialist, businessman and politician who played a dominant role in southern Africa in the late 19th Century, driving the annexation of vast swathes of land
- Born the son of a vicar in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, in 1853, he first went to Africa at the age of 17; grew cotton with his brother in Natal, but moved into diamond mining, founding De Beers, which until recently controlled the global trade
- Rhodes’s bequest continues to finance scholarships bearing his name, allowing overseas students to come to Oxford University; among them former US President Bill Clinton
- Controversial even in his own time, Rhodes backed the disastrous Jameson Raid of 1895, in which a small British force tried to overthrow the gold-rich Transvaal Republic, helping prompt the Second Boer War, in which tens of thousands died