• 70°

America and a history of toothaches

By Joseph L. Bass

Is it possible American society has a toothache? Is it possible we have more than one toothache? Can a toothache be compared with the incidents of social agitation we observe today?

Today agitation for equal rights, particularly equal rights for black Americans, is common. But in 1910 it was not. In 1895, Booker T. Washington, president of the Tuskegee Institute, proposed what became known as the Atlanta Compromise.

Washington proposed a racial, political compromise in a major speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition. He offered that southern blacks would not agitate for equality, justice or integration; southern whites would guarantee that blacks received basic education and due process under law; and northern whites would fund black educational charities.

Initially the compromise was supported by many major black leaders including W.E.B. Du Bois. But by 1910 Du Bois experienced second thoughts and opposed it. After Washington’s death in 1915, many prominent black leaders joined Du Bois in his objection.

In a November 1910 article titled “The Crisis” and published in the NAACP magazine, Du Bois explained why agitation is important in a society.

He compared political agitation to a toothache. People do not like having a toothache, but having one plays an important role in a person’s health. The pain signals the body that a problem exists. There is unhealthy decay in the tooth.

If there were no pain from the decay, the body would be lulled into a false sense of security that all is well. In his thinking, the pain is not good, but it is necessary for good health. Without the pain, a person might die from advancing decay.

Du Bois considered political agitation to be the same as pain from a toothache. If there were no agitation, society would be lulled into a false sense of security that all is well. Agitation, in and of itself, is not good, but necessary for social health. Without agitation, a society might die from advancing social decay.

Today America has many toothaches. We also have a lot of agitation about many social issues. But we are missing Du Bois’ final message. He said that agitation calls for identification of what causes the agitation and a remedy found to correct the social decay that causes it.

Today there is strong condemnation of the agitation and the agitators. The agitators should love one another and agitate no more. There are no efforts to identify the social decay that causes the agitation nor efforts to develop and apply constructive remedies to solve the problems involved.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety1@aol.com.