Denmark just got its first public monument to a black woman, and it flips the script on the country’s dark colonial past.
The nearly 23-foot-tall statue titled “I Am Queen Mary” made its public debut in Copenhagen on Saturday. It is a tribute to the 19th-century rebel leader Mary Thomas, who led a revolt against her Danish overlords on the Caribbean island of St. Croix. She was known as “Queen Mary.”
Artists Jeannette Ehlers of Denmark and La Vaughn Belle of the U.S. Virgin Islands ― which St. Croix is now a part of ― created the work to “memorialize Denmark’s colonial impact in the Caribbean and those who fought against it.”
“This project challenges Denmark’s role in slavery and the commemoration of its colonial past. It aims to change the narrative around this history and demonstrates how artists can be leaders in this conversation,” the artists’ statement says.
While most public statues in Denmark represent white men, this tribute was directly inspired by the best known of the “three rebel queens.” Alongside “Queen Agnes” and “Queen Mathilda,” Queen Mary helped lead the 1878 St. Croix labor rebellion known as the “Fireburn.”
Three decades after slavery was abolished in the Danish West Indies, plantation workers revolted over still-oppressive labor regulations and low wages. The Danish military killed many of the roughly 100 black residents who died in the uprising, according to the Danish National Archives. The colonial government sentenced the three queens to imprisonment.