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Thu, 05.15.1919

Mary Eugina Charles, a voice for the Caribbean

Mary E. Charles

Mary Eugenia Charles, was Black politician, was born on this date in 1919.

She was a granddaughter of former slaves and one of five children of John Baptiste and Josephine Delauney from Pointe Michel, Dominica.  Her father was the founder of the Penney Bank. Her three brothers were doctors and her sister is a nun.  Charles attended Catholic schools in Dominica and Grenada, then, from 1942 to 1946, she went to the University College of the University of Toronto and received a B.A. in law. She continued her studies of law at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

When she returned home in 1949, she became the first woman lawyer on this Caribbean island. When the Dominica Labor Party attempted to limit dissent with a sedition act in 1968, Charles became involved in politics.  In 1970, she was appointed to the legislature and in 1975, to the house of assembly, where she became the leader of the opposition. She co-founded the Dominica Freedom Party that helped Dominica win independence from Great Britain in 1978.

Two years later, Charles became prime minister of Dominica. She immediately began programs of economic reform and to end government corruption. In 1983, Charles encouraged the U.S. invasion of Grenada to prevent Cuban infiltration of that island. Two years later, she won a second five-year term and also became minister of foreign affairs, finance, and economic affairs and of defense. In 1990, she won her third term as prime minister. Her primary concern was to improve the lives of the citizens. She encouraged tourism to a small degree, but was determined to preserve the island's ecology and national identity.

There are no casinos in Dominica, no nightclubs, and no duty-free shops, and Charles wanted to keep it that way. This was in keeping with Dominica's motto, which, in Creole, is Aprus Bondie, c'est la Ter ("After God, the Earth"). Prime minister of Dominica from 1980 to 1995, Mary Eugenia Charles died in September 2005.

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