Two plaques marking the visit to a British university by King Leopold II of Belgium have been removed after students said they were racist.
The Belgian monarch – a cousin of Queen Victoria – visited Queen Mary University of London twice in 1887. On the second occasion, he laid the foundation stone of the library.
But campaigners said he was a “genocidal colonialist” after his exploits in the Belgian colony of Congo and claimed the plaques were offensive to students from ethnic minority backgrounds.
They added that removing the commemorative signs would help such students feel more “welcome, respected and integrated”.
The university authorities bowed to pressure, quietly removing both of them from the Octagon library in June “as part of ongoing refurbishment”.
They are being stored in an archive.
The Leopold Must Fall campaign was organised by the university’s Pan-African Society and echoes the Rhodes Must Fall campaign at Oxford, which wants the statue of the 19th century businessman Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College to be removed because of his colonial history.
King Leopold II is held responsible by some historians for the deaths of up to 10 million Africans – killed on his orders – as he made a fortune trading rubber and ivory from Congo.
But Alan Smithers, education professor at Buckingham University, said: “King Leopold of Belgium is history and it makes no sense to reinterpret his actions as racist … Queen Mary University is only pandering to this unhealthy search for racism and other ‘isms’ everywhere.”
A spokesman for Queen Mary University said: “The size and prominence of these inscriptions suggested a strength of association that was never the case, and as such the decision was taken to remove both from view.”
The university has in recent years become a bastion of student activism, has banned songs, newspapers and restricts “offensive” speech.
Heat Street recently reported that its students union shut down a broadcast by free speech activists aimed at stopping them implementing a newspaper ban on campus.