Born in 1879 to Joseph and Catherine O’Neal, Charles Duncan O’Neal attended Harrison College and received a Barbados Scholarship in 1899. His father sent him to Edinburgh University in Scotland to study medicine and he gained distinctions in almost all the academic areas and a Blue Ribbon in surgery. His interest in politics was sparked when he met the founder of the Independent Labour Party and so his roots in socialism were formed.
He returned to Barbados and found the conditions so terrible that he started a life in Trinidad and Dominica. It was only after 14 years that he returned to overturn the ills of his home country. In October 1924 he created the Democratic League and spent the rest of his life trying to uplift and empower the vast majority of impoverished Barbadians. He fought to uproot the deep seated racism of the time and canvassed for improved conditions for women which resulted in women holding leadership positions. If you visit the Barbados Parliament Museum you can see the sculpture dedicated to him.
O’Neal was the first activist to fight for free education and dental care for children. He worked tirelessly for improved housing and the abolition of the Located Labourer’s System. It was a process whereby labourer’s giving notice to leave their house own landowner’s plots would result in them essentially being ejected and their crop was confiscated. O’Neal also fought to bring down the Masters ad Servants Act that institutionalised discrimination against black and coloured workers in Barbados, confining them to sugar plantations and preventing them from earning enough to own land – which was one of the requirements to become eligible to vote. Herein lies part of his struggle to allow universal suffrage.
In 1932 O’Neal won a seat in the House of Assembly where he represented Bridgetown. As might be expected, O’Neal was feared and even hated by his adversaries. However, when this outstandingly courageous Barbadian died on November 19, 1936, he left almost the entire community, including his foes, to acknowledge that he had played an exceptional role in arousing the political consciousness of the masses in the period leading up to the Disturbances of 1937.
|Barbados Parliament Museum, Bridgetown|
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