The Vancouver School Board voted Monday night to remove a sign from a westside elementary school commemorating Cecil Rhodes, a controversial figure in the history of imperialism in Africa.
The sponsor of the motion had previously told Postmedia that she was optimistic it would be successful at Monday night’s board meeting. The vote was unanimous.
The sign used to be part of the flooring at L’Ecole Bilingue Elementary’s predecessor near Oak Street and West 14th, Cecil Rhodes School, from 1910 to 1977. That building was demolished and a new school was built to seismic standards.
The sign was placed in the school’s playground and the school’s parent advisory council voted last year to ask the board to remove Rhodes’ name.
“I don’t think I’d have known about the situation unless the parents had brought it to my attention,” OneCity trustee Jennifer Reddy said. “I’m glad they did.”
Both Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the Rhodes Scholarships are named after Cecil Rhodes, a late 19th century British businessman, South African mining magnate and politician, and a racist.
There’s an argument raised in these situations, when symbols of a past that would no longer be tolerated are removed, that we should be learning history and not wiping it out, that the very presence of a Cecil Rhodes sign teaches us about white supremacy and its roots.
Reddy doesn’t buy it.
“Signage and plaques (like the Rhodes one) are not neutral,” she said. “The vote to remove the monument is the learning opportunity.
“The thing of beauty about doing this in an educational setting is you’re surrounded by children and educators and it’s a chance to talk about who is writing (the history), who are we upholding and who are we hurting.”