In a country where most of the public statues represent white men, Denmark has taken a step in a new direction with the recent unveiling of its first-ever public monument honoring a Black woman.
On Saturday, artists La Vaughn Belle and Jeanette Ehlers unveiled “I AM QUEEN MARY,” a statue honoring 19th-century rebel queen Mary Thomas, who led a fiery rebellion against Danish colonial rule in the Virgin Islands, according to The New York Times. The project is the first collaborative statue to commemorate Denmark’s colonial impact in the Caribbean and those who challenged it.
“This project is about challenging Denmark’s collective memory and changing it,” Belle said in a statement.
The new monument revealed at the Danish West Indian Warehouse in Copenhagen, stands nearly 23-feet tall as Thomas sits a barefoot in a wide-backed chair with her head wrapped and her gaze set straight ahead. In one hand, she clutches a torch while the other wields a tool used to cut sugar cane.
Known as one of the “three queens,” Thomas and two other female leaders sparked an uprising in 1878 called the “Fireburn.” Fifty plantations and almost the entirety of the town of Frederiksted in St. Croix were burned to the ground, making it the largest labor revolt in Danish colonial history.
The New York Times reports that the unveiling comes at the end of the centennial year marking the sale of the three Danish islands – St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas – to the United States on March 3, 1917. All three were sold for a total of $25 million.
Denmark banned the transport of enslaved Blacks to the islands in 1792, but the rule only took effect 11 years later. Slavery continued there until 1842.
Even decades after slavery had officially ended on the islands, the conditions of emancipated Blacks hadn’t improved much, which fueled the uprising on St. Croix.
According to Ehlers, who teamed up with Belle to create the “Queen Mary” statue, the torch and cane bill held in Thomas’ hands symbolize the resistance strategies used by those who were colonized. Her seated pose also mirrors the iconic 1967 photo of Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton, the artists said in a statement.
Thomas was ultimately tried for her role in the uprising and shipped across the Atlantic to a women’s prison in Copenhagen, The New York Times reported. Her new statue sits in front of what was once a warehouse for Caribbean rum and sugar, just over a mile from where she was jailed.