By Brecken Branstrator
Oxford, U.K.—Protestors have taken to the streets in the U.K. to demand the University of Oxford’s Oriel College tear down a statue of De Beers founder Cecil Rhodes, and De Beers supports them.

In a statement shared with National Jeweler Friday, the company said: “Symbols matter, and we will not achieve equality, social justice and healing unless those bearing symbols of inequality, injustice and pain take them down.

“Cecil Rhodes was one of our founders in 1888. We reject what he stood for, and while we can’t rewrite that history, we can bear the responsibility of history to build a better legacy.”

The company said Rhodes “would not recognize the De Beers of today, and we’re very proud of that.”

“The men and women of De Beers, the majority of whom are citizen-owners of the company across southern Africa, have worked for decades to build a positive legacy that has tangible and lasting benefits for the communities in which we live and work.”

The move to remove Rhodes comes as protests ignite around the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and following the murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.

In the U.K., the movement has “reignited a debate about monuments glorifying Britain’s imperialist past,” Reuters reported.

Embed from Getty Images

Rhodes, an English businessman, was a central figure in British imperialism at the end of the 1800s, encouraging the empire to take control of vast areas of southern Africa.

Rhodes attended Oriel College, where his statue is currently located, in the 1870s. After his death in 1902, he left Oxford money and endowed the sought-after scholarships that still bear his name.

This isn’t the first time protestors have called for Oriel to remove the Rhodes statue.

The current movement is part of a campaign called “Rhodes Must Fall,” started in 2015 in South Africa—resulting in the removal of a statue at the University of Cape Town—and then adopted in Oxford by those who say he represents white supremacy and that his views don’t align with the university’s inclusive culture.

Oriel College refused to take down the statue then.

In a June 9 statement addressing the recent protests, the school said it believes in the message of Black Lives Matter and supports the right to peaceful protest, but told the BBC it has not changed its stance on the statue.

“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.”

Some public figures have spoken out against the removal of such monuments, arguing they reflect history and should be used to start discussions.

But demonstrators argue that the statue of Rhodes shouldn’t have a place of pride on the façade of Oriel College, overlooking the town’s main drag.

According to a CNN report, on Tuesday protestors took a knee, put their fists in the air and observed a moment of silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, representing the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck, ultimately killing the 46-year-old father.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 164,000 people had signed a petition on to have the statue taken down.

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.