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Legendary Queen Mary Comes to Life in Performance

March 17, 2007 — The setting for "Queen Mary Comin' to Freedom City," the portrayal of Queen Mary by Oceana James at the Frederiksted Clock Tower, was lovely Friday night.
The evening breeze was pleasantly cool, and the lights of Frederiksted Pier twinkled softly on the water. The event commemorated the 102nd anniversary of the death of Queen Mary, one of the greatest heroines of the Virgin Islands.
But there was something contradictory in this setting of newly completed construction, which welcomes tourists. It bespoke a colonial past that may have been at odds with the Queen Mary message of spirituality and pride.
James delivered the monologue, called a chautauqua, with passion and in a patois that made the time of the Fireburn of 1878 come alive. Queen Mary was a freedom fighter and this was a most serious uprising involving a fight for freedom and liberty, James said. The people were hungry and angry. There had been hurricanes and gales and no food to eat.
When Queen Mary decided to set St. Croix afire, she knew the children would be affected by her actions. They could take away her "pickney" (children), she said, but not her spirit. They arrested her, tied her up and dragged her through the streets to set an example. She spent 16 years in the Women's Prison in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The crowd attending the presentation numbered close to 100, representing people of different races and origins. After the chautauqua, the performance opened up for questions and discussion, with James remaining in character as Queen Mary. An audience member asked, "You weren't born here — why is that important today?"
Queen Mary was born in Antigua. James declared that it didn't matter where you were born, but where you spend your days, where you make your home. If you lived on St. Croix, you were a Crucian, she said. The crowd met her words with applause.
Another questioner asked, "What message could you give St. Croix today?" Queen Mary said, "Do nothing less than what I had to do. Remember to carry on the same vibration."
Another questioner asked about true friendship without reparations. Queen Mary said the relationship between whites and blacks could not be mended until some sort of reparations were made, a statement met with a mixed response from the audience. One black man in the audience approached a white couple and said, "I really don't believe in this black-against-white stuff."
The presentation incorporated new research findings by local historian Wayne James. After the presentation, James said he has continued to come across information on the historical experiences of Queen Mary, with another public announcement about that information forthcoming. James said he has also recently discovered more historical information on Queen Mathilda.
This is the second year that Oceana James has played the role of Queen Mary. Last year she played her when Per Ankh first produced the Three Queens Chautauqua Series, which was sponsored by the V.I. Humanities Council.
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