Caribbean Heroes

Charles Duncan O Neal

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"The Social Transformer"

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Charles Duncan O’Neal, a medical doctor was a member of the elite class and held a high social position in the Barbadian community. Despite the social norms of the time, he chose to dedicate his life to assisting the poor and actively rejected the racism of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Unheard of ‘behavior’ for the time in which he lived!

Charles Duncan O’Neal was a rare individual, unconcerned about the potential damage to his reputation, he quickly became known as the first gentleman from the upper class (who not only had a university degree and independent business) to throw caution to the wind and refuse to conform to the expectations of those in his socio-economic bracket. He led by example, igniting the arousal of social and political consciousness throughout all strata’s of society thus laying the groundwork for significant social reform.

A student of Edinburgh University in Scotland, Charles Duncan O’Neal studied medicine, gaining distinctions and the honorable Blue Ribbon in surgery. While at university he became friends with a member of the Independent Labour Party, Keir Hardie and his interest in politics began to grow.

Recalled as the first politician in Barbados to rally for improved working conditions for women, Charles Duncan O’Neal also supported the role of women in leadership positions in the Democratic League and Working Men’s Association! His lists of achievements include but are not limited to the following:

Establishment of the Democratic League in October, 1924 which was based on the principles of socialism thus attracting membership from the colored and middle classes.

Creation of a proto-union entitled the Working Men’s Association

Investment in The Herald Newspaper which was renowned as the medium through which reform, enfranchisement and social change were voiced daily.

He fought for free education and dental care for children, improved housing and abolition of the:

Located Laborers’ System

The Master and Servants Act

In 1932 he won a seat in the House of Assembly as a Member for Bridgetown

Campaigned for the abolishment of Child Labour.

As a tribute to this extraordinary gentleman, the ten dollar note features the portrait of Charles Duncan O’Neal and the bridge in Bridgetown is named in his honor.

Information correct at time of posting - 15 Feb 06

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National Heroes’ Day: April 28

National Heroes’ Day is a public holiday in Barbados.

According the Barbados’ Order of National Heroes Act, those people that have “given outstanding service to Barbados”, “contributed to the improvement of the economic and social conditions of Barbados”, and demonstrated “visionary and pioneering leadership, extraordinary achievement and the attainment of the highest excellence” will be honored every year on April 28, a day set aside as National Heroes’ Day.

History of National Heroes’ Day in Barbados

The country of Barbados has been shaped by the vision and achievement of numerous people, and in 1998, the parliament wanted to recognize those people. In April of that year, Prime Minister Owen Arthur announced that April 28 would be celebrated as Barbados’ National Heroes’ Day. The day would serve as a means of both taking pride in post-independence nationhood and also recognizing the contributions that Barbadians have made. Arthur also announced that Trafalgar Square in Bridgetown would be renamed to National Heroes Square.

The April 28 date was chosen in honor of the birth of Sir Grantley Herbert Adams, one of the ten national heroes remembered every year. The current list of heroes remembered each year is:

Bussa (????-1816)
Sarah Ann Gill (1795-1866)
Samuel Jackman Prescod (1806-1871)
Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal (1879-1936)
Clement Osbourne Payne (1904-1941)
Sir Grantley Herbert Adams (1898-1987)
Rt. Hon. Errol Walton Barrow (1920-1987)
Sir Hugh Worrell Springer (1913-1994)
Sir Frank Leslie Walcott (1916-1999)
Sir Garfield St. Aubyn Sobers (1936- )

Each of the ten received the title “Right Excellent” as part of the act. The act was amended in 2009 to confer extra privileges to living heroes. For more information about each of these heroes, visit Barbados’ Government Information Service.

Barbados’ National Heroes’ Day Traditions, Customs and Activities

Schools are particularly involved every year with spreading awareness of Barbados’ national heroes to the youth. Special historical presentations, re-enactments, and games are typical fare for Barbados’ youth.

Additionally, sports are typical on the island on this day. Games like hockey, soccer, and even chess are to be found. In April and May of 2009, Barbados had its first Heroes Day Cup, a chess tournament celebrating the people and history of the game, with festivities tied directly into the National Heroes’ Day festivities.

In the heart of Bridgetown, many celebrations take place at Heroes Square. Food, music, and fireworks are to be found, with many stalls giving others the opportunity to discover more about Barbados’ culture and the people that have shaped it over the years.

Charles Duncan O Neal

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Categories: Barbados