The statue of Mary Thomas called “I Am Queen Mary” is the first public monument to a black woman in Denmark, according to the artists. Credit Nick Furbo
COPENHAGEN — The statue of the woman is nearly 23 feet tall. Her head is wrapped and she 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.
In Denmark, where most of the public statues represent white men, two artists on Saturday unveiled the striking statue in tribute to a 19th-century rebel queen who had led a fiery revolt against Danish colonial rule in the Caribbean.
They said it was Denmark’s first public monument to a black woman.
The sculpture was inspired by Mary Thomas, known as one of “the three queens.” Thomas, along with two other female leaders, unleashed an uprising in 1878 called the “Fireburn.” Fifty plantations and most of the town of Frederiksted in St. Croix were burned, in what has been called the largest labor revolt in Danish colonial history.
“This project is about challenging Denmark’s collective memory and changing it,” the Virgin Islands artist La Vaughn Belle, one of two principal forces behind the statue, said in a statement.
The unveiling comes at the end of a centennial year commemorating the sale by Denmark of three islands to the United States on March 3, 1917: St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas. The price: $25 million.
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Though Denmark prohibited trans-Atlantic slave trafficking in 1792, it did not rush to enforce the ban. The rule took effect 11 years later, and slavery continued until 1848.
“They wanted to fill the stocks first” and ensure enough slaves would remain to keep plantations running, said Niels Brimnes, an associate professor at Aarhus University and a leading expert on colonialism in Denmark.
Three decades after slavery formally ended on what today are known as the United States Virgin Islands, conditions for the former slaves had not improved significantly.
That continued injustice fomented the uprising on St. Croix.
Mary Thomas was tried for her role in the rebellion and ferried across the Atlantic to a women’s prison in Copenhagen. The statue created in tribute to her, called “I Am Queen Mary,” sits in front of what was once a warehouse for Caribbean sugar and rum, just more than a mile from where she was jailed.
The only other tribute to Denmark’s colonies or those who were colonized is a statue of a generic figure from Greenland…!!!