Feb 1, 2021
On January 22, Henry “Hank” Aaron passed away. Aaron was a man who defied racism to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time.
Aaron was born in 1934 in Mobile, Alabama, the son of a shipyard worker. He grew up in the era of Jim Crow segregation. When he was a teenager in 1948, Aaron and other young black men in Mobile met with Jackie Robinson, who had become the first black man to play in Major League Baseball just a year earlier.
Aaron pursued baseball as a way to escape poverty. He first played with segregated semi-pro teams in Mobile and then played in the Negro Leagues.
In 1952, as Major League Baseball was slowly integrating, Aaron signed with the Milwaukee Braves.
Aaron began in the Minor Leagues. Playing in Jacksonville, Florida, he was one of the first black players in the South Atlantic League. There Aaron faced abuse from some white fans, who would yell racist epithets at him.
Aaron was such a good player that, at age 20, he moved up to the Major Leagues.
Playing with the Milwaukee Braves (who later moved to Atlanta), Aaron was an immediate star. He won the league batting championships and Most Valuable Player awards.
Year after year, Aaron was an All-Star player. But that didn’t protect him from the racism of this society. Early in his Major League career, Aaron protested because black players were not allowed in some hotels where their white teammates stayed.
In 1974, Aaron was about to set the career record for home runs and the racist attacks intensified. Aaron received many letters of support, but he also was getting racist hate mail and death threats because he dared to break Babe Ruth’s record.
Aaron said, “It really made me see a clear picture of what this country is about. My kids had to live like they were in prison because of kidnap threats.... I had to have a police escort with me all the time. I was getting threatening letters every single day.”
But Aaron refused to be intimidated. He went on to set the home run record and finished his career with several other all-time records.
After his career was done, Aaron said that “baseball has done a lot for me, but also it has taught me that regardless of who you are and how much money you make, you are still a Negro.”
Aaron’s baseball career coincided with the Civil Rights movement and the struggles of the black population. Years later, Aaron talked about the gains made during that time, but added, “anyone who thinks the same thing can’t happen today is sadly mistaken. It happens now with people in three-piece suits instead of with hoods on.”
Henry Aaron’s life shows someone to be admired for what he accomplished, and reflects on the experience of the black population in this country.