Nicknamed the “Rebel Queen” in a New York Times article, the first public statue in Denmark of a black woman was unveiled March 31, 2018. The date was chosen to mark the end of the centennial year when the Danish sold three islands to the U.S. in 1917 for $25 million (now known as the Virgin Islands).
The statue was created by Danish artist Jeannette Ehlers with the help of artist La Vaughn Belle. The duo were inspired by female leaders, such as Mary Thomas, who led an uprising in St. Croix in 1878. New York Times writer Martin Sorensen noted that the 23-foot-tall sculpture “… stares straight ahead while sitting barefoot, but regally, in a wide-backed chair, clutching a torch in one hand and a tool used to cut sugar cane in the other.”
But why a farming tool and a torch? The items are rumored to represent “resistance strategies” by colonized individuals who helped a 19th-century queen to lead a rebellion against Danish colonial rule in the Caribbean known as “Fireburn.”
In a land of statues comprised of mostly white men, the “I Am Queen Mary” statue stands tall against the backdrop of a brick building once used to store Caribbean rum and sugar. The building is only about a mile from where Mary Thomas was jailed for leading “the largest labor revolt in Danish colonial history.”
While the statue resurrects the memory of black heroines in Denmark, it doesn’t lay to rest to the years of Africans who were forcibly put onto Danish ships to work in plantations in the Caribbean.
As the New York Times points out, “… the Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, expressed regret for his country’s part in the slave trade—but he stopped short of an apology.” However, when referring to the past exploitation, Rasmussen also added, “It’s not a proud part of Denmark’s history. It’s shameful and luckily of the past.”