Dr. Roderick D. Badger, known as the first African-American dentist in Atlanta, was recognized on March 6 at the Auburn Avenue Research Library for his accomplishments in Atlanta’s history and in Black history during a community discussion facilitated by historian Nasir Muhammad.
In collaboration with the Black Mecca of the South Tours, the timely presentation set out to highlight the life of Dr. Badger on National Dentist Day.
“I had to give Mr. Badger some justice and I thought that it would be great to do it on a day where dentists were recognized throughout the country,” said Muhammad.
Born to prominent white slave owner Dr. Joshua B. Badger and slave Martha Badger, Dr. Badger was taught dentistry by his father at the age of 16.
Later freed by his father and master, Dr. Badger became the first Black dentist to practice dentistry in Atlanta alongside his white brother. His brother Ralph practiced on 14 Marietta St. and Badger on 39 Peachtree as far back as 1860 during a time when there were only 10 dentists in Atlanta, two of them were Black.
Dr. Badger married in 1855 and had eight children. His son Ralph followed in his footsteps and pursued dentistry but died at the age of 30 and was buried in Oakland Cemetery.
In 1870 Dr. Badger attended the Atlanta University normal school as an English student where he studied alongside Henry Flipper (the first Black West Point graduate), Lucy Laney (opened the first school for Black students in Augusta, Ga), Richard R. Wright (first president of Savannah State) and William Finch (first councilman in Atlanta).
“I learned some things I didn’t know, the other parts of the Badgers,” said Valerie Gaines-Hall who told the Daily World Dr. Badger was her great, great, great uncle. “Only knowing their names, I didn’t know any details about him [Dr. Badger] and his brother Robert. That was very informative for me.”
Dr. Badger’s historic contribution to society helped to propel other Blacks to pursue dentistry. According to Muhammad’s research, in 1905 the state of Georgia had 65 Black doctors seven of them were Black dentists. In 1930 there were 193 Black doctors 60 Black dentists.
In 1855 there were 18 free Blacks; Dr. Badger was one of those free men.
“There are a thousand plus a thousand stories about our history, these figures that were remarkable in times that you really would not expect like in the 1800’s and the 1900’s,”said Dr. Stephanie Dunn, a Professor at Morehouse College.
Muhammad revealed Dr. Badger was as successful during that time because his father, Dr. Joshua B. Badger who was the first dentist to practice in Atlanta, was extremely influential.
Dr. Badger, who was the first Black trustee for Clark University, was an aide to confederate officer Captain Milton A. Candler who is the brother of Asa Candler, founder of Coca Cola and the historic Candler Park’s namesake.
Additionally, Dr. Badger was part of Freedman’s Savings and Trust which paved the way for black owned and operated Atlanta States Savings Bank and later Citizens Trust Bank. In 1872 he was chosen as a district six alternative delegate for the Democratic National Convention.
“My mission is to restore and gather back those forgotten people, African Americans who were involved in bringing forth the movement that King endorsed and was born from,” said Muhammad. “There is a tremendous amount of accomplishments from African Americans from the reconstruction era to the modern civil rights movement and that gap of history is practically forgotten, especially when it comes to Atlanta,” noted Muhammad.
Dr. Badger died in 1890 in his home on 46 East Harris St. in NW Atlanta.