Queen Mary remove ‘imperialist’ plaques from university building

Campaigners claimed they represented ‘genocide and mass murder’

Queen Mary have removed two plaques from a university building after a petition was made by a society condemning the commemoration of the foundation stones, which they believed to represent “colonial exploitation, genocide and mass murder.”

The Pan-African society called for the removal and re-contextualisation of the stones as they argued the plaques breached the university’s own social and educational policies of inclusion. The foundation stones, found in the Octagon Building, were laid by King Leopold II who ruled Belgium between 1835 to 1909.

The society described the King as a “genocidal colonialist responsible for the death of an estimated 15 million people and the mutilation of thousands of others.”

The stones were laid by the King on a visit to Mile End in 1887. He founded the Congo Free State, and forced natives to work on rubber plantations.

The petition read: “By removing and recontextualising the plaques, Queen Mary will be taking progressive steps towards ensuring that students and staff, particularly those from an ethnic minority background, are made to feel more welcomed, respected, integrated and entitled to a sense of belonging on campus.”

The university quietly removed the plaques during refurbishment in June 2016.

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The plaques were in the Octagon Building

Emma Bull, director of student services at Queen Mary, told the protesters: “Queen Mary University has no historical ties with King Leopold, other than he visited Mile End in April 1887, and then returned to lay the Foundation Stone in June 1887.

“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.”

Both plaques have since been put into an archive, according to the university. Universities across the U.K. have seen similar petitions calling on imperialist artefacts to be removed from campus. In January, the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ petition at Oxford University attempted to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College as campaigners believed it represented white supremacy on campus.

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