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Stortford Against Rhodes welcomes Rhodes Arts Complex name change to South Mill Arts

Anti-racism activists are "delighted" that Rhodes Arts Complex will be renamed South Mill Arts from August 24.

Stortford Against Rhodes (SAR) was formed in June after Black Lives Matter protests swept the country and focused attention once more on the South Road venue and its links with colonialist Cecil Rhodes, who was born in the family home, Netteswell House, on the site in 1853.

Three petitions were launched calling on Rhodes Birthplace Trust (RBT) to ensure the building was renamed, removing any reference to the diamond and mining magnate now regarded as a white supremacist. The petition organisers then merged to form pressure group SAR.

Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop's Stortford.Stand Up to Racism Harlow and Stortford Against Rhodes demonstration. .Pic Vikki Lince. (40219372)
Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop's Stortford.Stand Up to Racism Harlow and Stortford Against Rhodes demonstration. .Pic Vikki Lince. (40219372)

On Wednesday August 5 the trust announced that the new name would mark the centre's location near the South Mill watermill mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, rather than the Victorian southern Africa politician who gave his name to Southern and Northern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and Zambia.

At the same time the trustees – who started the rebranding process, including their own RBT name change to Bishop's Stortford Museum and Arts Charitable Incorporated Organisation, before the protests – made it clear they would not erase Rhodes from the town's history archive.

SAR spokesman Lukas Ruediger said: "We are pleased that the arts centre, something we should feel proud of in the community, will no longer be tarnished by the name of Cecil Rhodes.

Cecil John Rhodes. (40219376)
Cecil John Rhodes. (40219376)

"We want to thank all those who supported our campaign, without whom this change would certainly not have happened as soon. We hope that the community and our supporters will share the pride we feel in this.

"We note that in the RBT statement they state they 'will not participate in any attempt to eradicate Cecil Rhodes from our history'. Neither will we. Too much history is ignored already, especially the history of minorities and BAME (Black, Asian minority ethnic) individuals and communities in our country and our local area.

"We must never forget the crimes of the ideologies of Cecil Rhodes. We must learn as a society and as a community through education.

"We, as anti-racists, must educate the future generations to be anti-racist too, and that includes the crimes of Cecil Rhodes and other colonialists, and we hope the centre will be able to be a part of this.

"Our next steps will be to continue the campaign for better education with a wider breadth of BAME history in the community.

"This campaign has brought to light some amazing histories that few people were aware of before; for example, Felix Cobson, an inspiring local arts teacher who established an African village [Aklowa in Takeley] in the '60s and '70s, or Francis Barber, an ex-slave and Stortford citizen who worked for Samuel Johnson, pioneer of the dictionary, and inherited his possessions after his death.

"There is so much more to our town's historical figures than just Cecil Rhodes, and we look forward to the opportunity to work with the centre, and with local schools, to bring these figures to light, helping create that campaign of education that is so important in anti-racist work.

"We will continue to be a voice for anti-racist causes in our community."

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