Trustees vote to rename Winnipeg's Cecil Rhodes School, drop moniker of white supremacist
'I just feel it's almost like a milestone, especially to the marginalized community': trustee Jennifer Chen
Winnipeg School Division trustees have voted overwhelmingly to change the name of a 113-year-old school that has honoured a controversial man connected with apartheid and white supremacy.
A petition to change the name of Cecil Rhodes, a nursery to Grade 9 school in the city's Weston area, was launched in 2020 during the global wave of anti-racism rallies and a renewed push to remove colonialist monuments.
It eventually gathered more than 1,700 signatures.
On Monday night, trustees voted 6-1 to take the necessary steps to find a more appropriate name. A committee will be created to come up with one that reflects the spirit of reconciliation.
The school's new name will be in place no later than September 2022.
"I just feel it's almost like a milestone, especially to the marginalized community," WSD trustee Jennifer Chen said about the result of the vote.
"It's so, so important."
Chen brought the name-changing idea forward last June in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
"School names should deliver a sense of pride to students and staff," the motion she presented last October said. "The continued name of a white supremacist will hurt students who Cecil Rhodes would have seen as lesser humans."
Following Monday's vote, Chen said she was "proud to have helped get it done."
"And I'm so thankful for everyone who helped support the renaming."
There were a number of community and school consultations about the idea, which then led to a survey that recommended the motion for a name change should proceed.
On its website, Cecil Rhodes school proclaims its name is a tribute to the "British-born South African statesman, financier, founder of the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford and one of the great empire builders of the late 19th century."
However, according to biographies written about him, Rhodes also advocated vigorous settler colonialism and touted views that white Europeans were "the first race in the world" and that "the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race."
A British businessman, imperialist and politician, Rhodes also renamed the southern African territory of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) after himself. His policies also paved the way for apartheid in South Africa.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.