"Rebel Queen" Monument Reminds Us Why We Need More Statues Of Black Women

Photo: Courtesy of Nick Furbo.
On Saturday, two female artists, Jeannette Ehlers and La Vaughn Belle, will unveil the first-ever monument to a Black woman in Denmark. I Am Queen Mary is inspired by Mary Thomas, a rebel queen who led an anti-slavery revolt in St. Croix in the 1800s.
The monument is meant to confront Denmark's dark colonial past and its impact on the Caribbean, as well as commemorate those who fought against slavery. It also marks the end of the 100th anniversary of Denmark's sale of the West Indies, now the Virgin Islands, in 1917.
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"​It takes a statue like this to make forgetting less easy. It takes a monument like this to fight against the silence, neglect, repression, and hatred," Henrik Holm, senior research curator at the National Gallery of Denmark, said in a statement.
The project represents a ​"bridge between the two countries," said Belle. "It's a hybrid of our bodies, nations, and narratives. It extends the conversation beyond the centennial year and gets people to really question what is their relationship to this history." The statue is built as a hybrid of the two artists' bodies created using 3-D scanning technology. Its seated pose is meant to evoke the iconic 1967 photograph of Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party, sitting in a wicker chair.
I Am Queen Mary reminds us that there are precious few monuments to Black women, and Black people in general, here in the United States. Last year's rally in Charlottesville — at which white nationalists protested the removal of the city's Robert E. Lee statue — galvanized the removal of Confederate monuments around the nation. Many believe that these monuments glorify white supremacy, and in some places people have proposed replacing them with statues of Black women who have made a difference in history.
In Washington, D.C., there's a memorial to educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune, which was the city's first statue of an African-American woman. It was unveiled in 1974. A bust of abolitionist and women's-rights advocate Sojourner Truth, installed in 2009, is the first sculpture to honor a Black woman in the U.S. Capitol. In Eugene, OR, there's a statue of Rosa Parks outside the bus station, built in 2009. There are several depictions of abolitionist Harriet Tubman around the country, most of them built in the past two decades.
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That is about it. However, statues of Black women are slowly starting to replace Confederate monuments. On March 20, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill to replace a statue of a Confederate general in the U.S. Capitol with one of Bethune, who is the founder of the historically Black Bethune-Cookman University in Florida.
In Pittsburgh, a statue of an African-American woman — the city's first of its kind — will replace the controversial Stephen Foster memorial. Foster is known for writing minstrel songs, and the monument has been criticized for depicting a Black banjo player sitting at the feet of the composer. The public will provide input on who the woman will be.
Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Yvette D. Clarke sponsored legislation earlier this year to erect a statue of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first to run for president, at the U.S. Capitol. Senators who supported the bill included Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Tammy Duckworth.
A Virginia resident started a petition to replace the Confederate monument in Portsmouth, VA, with one to four-time Grammy Award winner Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, who hails from the city and is considered a local hero.
Without the existence of physical monuments, we can only imagine how the world would be different if more African-Americans were honored for their impact. With its Black Monuments Project, Mic has pushed the conversation forward, proposing statues that honor Black heroes in 54 U.S. states and territories.
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"In the months leading up to the massacre he carried out at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, Dylann Roof gave himself tours of the abundant Confederate markers and slave plantations dotting South Carolina," according to Mic. "The trip fueled his appreciation for the violence these places commemorated. Might a comparable abundance of Black monuments plant a greater respect for Black humanity in others?"
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