King Leopold II
The titular figure of the book (and arguably its villain), King Leopold II was the longest-reigning monarch in Belgian history. During his reign, he amassed enormous landholdings in the African territory surrounding the Congo River… read analysis of King Leopold II
Edmund Dene Morel
An early human rights activist, and arguably the “hero” of the book, Edmund Dene Morel was one of the first Europeans to recognize the existence of slavery in the Belgian-controlled Congo and publicize his findings… read analysis of Edmund Dene Morel
John Rowlands / Henry Morton Stanley
Henry Morton Stanley was the first European explorer to sail all the way across the Congo River. An ambitious yet intensely insecure man, he was born into a poor Welsh family and he worked hard… read analysis of John Rowlands / Henry Morton Stanley
Irish government worker who spent many years in the Congo observing human rights abuses before joining with Edmund Dene Morel to speak out against King Leopold II and the Belgian government in the Congo. Like… read analysis of Roger Casement
Nzinga Mbemba Affonso (Affonso I)
15th century king who ruled near the Congo River. Affonso I was popular among the early Portuguese colonialists who visited the Congo River because he wanted to modernize his kingdom with European technology and religion… read analysis of Nzinga Mbemba Affonso (Affonso I)
George Washington Williams
African American journalist who traveled to the Congo in 1890 and became the first Westerner to write about the human rights abuses he saw there. While Williams died of tuberculosis shortly after publishing his first articles criticizing the Belgian administration, his work helped spark an international Congo reform movement.
European priest who was captured by rebel Congolese soldiers. Much to Achte’s surprise, he was treated respectfully and hospitably in captivity and was subsequently released.
The nephew and successor of Leopold II on the Belgian throne.
Unloved wife of King Leopold II.
President Chester A. Arthur
American President whose administration was the first to formally recognize King Leopold II’s landholdings in the Congo, setting in motion a series of atrocities in the region.
Chancellor Otto von Bismarck
Leader and unifier of the modern German state, and one of the architects of the Berlin conference of the 1890s, which set in motion the “Scramble for Africa,” during which the European powers divided up most of the African continent.
American state agent who worked in the Congo and gathered information about Belgian human rights abuses.
Portuguese captain who led the earliest European expedition to the Congo River.
Charlotte, Empress of Mexico
The sister of Leopold II, who went insane around the time that her husband was killed.
The late 19th and early 20th century author Joseph Conrad (born Konrad Korzeniowski) worked aboard a ship in the Congo while he was a young man; his horrific experiences there influenced the plot of his most famous book, Heart of Darkness.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Author of the Sherlock Holmes books, and an advocate for human rights during the Congo reform movement.
British-backed governor of the Sudan, who faced a sudden Muslim uprising in 1886.
Prime Minister of Great Britain in the late Victorian era.
Congolese woman who told Edgar Canisius about her suffering at the hands of the Belgian army in the Congo.
American lobbyist hired by Leopold II to control the controversy surrounding the Congo reform movement, but who ultimately switched sides and told the public that Leopold was trying to bribe American politicians. This greatly damaged Leopold’s reputation.
American missionary who traveled to the Congo with William Sheppard.
Late 19th and early 20th century American poet whose lines about “King Leopold’s ghost” give the book its title.
British explorer whose disappearance into the “heart of Africa” prompted an international effort to rescue him, (supposedly) culminating in Henry Morton Stanley’s famous greeting, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”
Daughter of Leopold II, who suffered from mental illness for most of her life.
The first democratically elected leader of the Congo, who was assassinated in the 1950s with the support of the American government because he made a statement suggesting that he would interfere with American business interests in the country.
Belgian diplomat who, during the 1970s, discovered that the Belgian government had covered up its human rights abuses in the Congo under Leopold II,. He published a four-volume history of the matter.
Dictatorial, American-sponsored successor of Patrice Lumumba.
Belgian ambassador to the United States in the 1890s.
Senator John Tyler Morgan
White supremacist senator from Alabama who was instrumental in drumming up support for Belgian occupation of the Congo, and who believed that the Congo could serve as a future resettlement site for African Americans.
Religious minister who collaborated with William Sheppard in the 1890s to denounce the human rights atrocities in the Congo.
Emperor of France, who arranged for Charlotte to become the Empress of Mexico.
Chief of the Sanga tribe in the Congo, who led a heroic but failed rebellion against the Belgian overlords.
Young heiress who had a romance with Henry Morton Stanley, but eventually broke off the relationship to marry another man.
Captain Léon Rom
Captain in the Force Publique, the official military force of the Belgian Congo, who was famed for his cruelty and may have served as a partial model for Mr. Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness.
General Henry Shelton Sanford
Connecticut-born man who served as ambassador to Belgium, became an ally of Leopold II, and was later instrumental in recruiting Henry Morton Stanley to work for Leopold.
Hezekiah Andrew Shanu
Nigerian man who risked his life to supply Edmund Dene Morel with information about human rights abuses in the Congo.
Middle child of King Leopold II.
White officer in the Congo whose execution, supported by the Force Publique, caused an international outcry and drew new attention to the human rights abuses in the territory.
Wife of Henry Morton Stanley.
Afro-Arab leader and slave-trader who briefly formed an alliance with the Belgian governors in the Congo.
Famous American writer and humorist who also served as an important advocate for human rights during the Congo reform movement.