Barbados will, this year, pay tribute to another of its outstanding forefathers, the Right Excellent Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal, as part of celebrations for the 2009 Season of Emancipation. He will be the focus of a public lecture by Principal of Queen’s College, Dr. David Browne, this Thursday, April 23, in the West Wing of Parliament Buildings, starting at 8:00 p.m.
As part of the celebrations, a Service of Thanksgiving will be held on Sunday, April 26, at the St. Lucy Parish Church, beginning at 8:30 a.m. A tree planting ceremony will follow the service, at Nesfield, St. Lucy, the birthplace of Dr. O’Neal.
’Neal, a medical doctor by profession and a member of the society’s privileged class, was an advocate for poor working-class Barbadians. He fought against discrimination and racism in the 1920’s and 30’s.
This national icon was considered unique, since he went against the social dictates of Barbadian society, using his education and standing to bring political consciousness to the masses.
Dr. O’Neal agitated for free education and dental care for children, improved housing and the abolition of the Located Labourers’ System and the Masters and Servants Act. He even fought, albeit unsuccessfully, for the introduction of Universal Adult Suffrage.
Dr. O’Neal also was a champion for the rights of women, and in 1924, he founded the Democratic League of Barbados, a pioneering black political group in which women held many leadership positions.
The social activist, who was born in 1879, became the League’s first President, and served as Founder and Patron of the Barbados Working Men’s Association.
Dr. O’Neal tasted victory in local politics in 1932, when he won a seat for the City of Bridgetown in the House of Assembly, defeating H.B.G Austin by one vote.
He went on to serve in the House of Assembly for four years, continuing to fight for the poor and down-trodden workers. During this period, his achievements included an increased grant for Barbados Scholarship winners and a campaign for the abolishment of child labour.
The Right Excellent Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal passed away on November 19, 1936. His life was dedicated to fighting for equality and caring for his fellow man.
Dr. O’Neal laid the groundwork for social reform in Barbados; his legacy evident in the high standard of living which many Barbadians enjoy today.
Come Thursday, April 23, the National Heroes lecture at Parliament Buildings will be an opportunity to hear more about this outstanding national icon. It is an event many Barbadians should attend.