“Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron started his baseball career as a teen in 1951, has passed away on Jan. 22, 2021. He was 86 years old. He credits his brother and uncle’s love, encouragement, and support that helped him pursue his dream of playing ball.
As a child, the legendary ballplayer’s family was so poor he did not have traditional equipment — instead of a ball and bat, he used bottle caps and sticks. In 1949, 15-year-old Aaron tried out for the Brooklyn Dodgers but did not make the team. Instead, he returned to school and earned his high school diploma.
Two years later, his career began when he joined the Indianapolis Clowns, a minors team in the Negro American League. One month later, he signed on with the Atlanta Braves and was assigned to a team in Jacksonville, Florida, in the South Atlantic League.
As a Black man playing in the South, he began hearing taunts from Caucasian spectators for the first time in his career.
In 1954, Arron hit the majors in Milwaukee. After moving north, he quietly allied himself with the growing civil rights movement. He was instrumental in the-Sen. John F. Kennedy’s winning the Democratic presidential primary in Wisconsin.
Arron expressed concern when the Braves moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1966 — the civil rights movement’s height. He recalled his childhood in Mobile, Alabama, and the time he spent playing ball in Florida. Aaron said:
I have lived in the South, and I don’t want to live there again. We can go anywhere in Milwaukee. I don’t know what will happen in Atlanta.
In “The Last Hero,” a 2010 Aaron biography, the author talked about how the ball player never thought of himself as an important historical person, especially Jackie Robinson. Howard Bryant wrote:
Yet by twice integrating the South — first in the Sally League and later as the first Black star on a major league team in the South (at the apex of the civil rights movement, no less) — his road in many ways was no less lonely, and in other ways far more difficult.
In 1974, Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record with 715 career home runs under the threat of death. When he retired in 1976, he held numerous other records, including being “named to the all-star team every year between 1955 and 1975,” according to The Washington Post.
Aaron received recognition from Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush — in 2001, he was awarded a Presidential Citizens Medal, and in 2002, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jimmy Carter described him as a “personal hero.”
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
WSBTV2 Atlanta: Braves legend Hank Aaron dies at age 86
The Washington Post: Hank Aaron, baseball great who became voice for civil rights, dies at 86; by Dave Sheinin and Matt Schudel
The Washington Post: Hank Aaron, baseball’s one-time home run king, dies at 86; by
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