As far as I am concerned, Hank Aaron is the all time home run champion, but he was much more than a legendary ball player.
Hank Aaron’s career lasted from 1954-1976, right in the thick of the civil rights movement. He was a reserved man who kept his head down and played ball, but he knew of the struggles he and his fellow African-Americans had to face.
He spoke of death threats and security escorts being the norm. When he hit his record-breaking 715th home run, the legendary Vin Scully said, “what a marvelous moment for the country and the world, a black man is getting a standing ovation in the deep south for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol,” which I am sure was a refreshing moment for Henry (he did not like to be called Hank) because he had felt the deeply rooted racism in the season leading up to the home run record. White segregationists did not want to see a strong, humble black man surpass the Babe.
In a 1990 interview with the New York Times he explained how he had two personal bodyguards, the FBI investigated death threats against him, and his kids had to live like “prisoners”. Ultimately, that experience “carved a piece of [his] heart away.”
Aaron and his wife, Billye, supported civil rights for decades. Billye served on the NAACP’s legal defense and education fund board of directors for over 45 years and in 2005 they awarded Henry Aaron with the Thurgood Marshall lifetime Achievement award.
Aaron had a tremendous impact on racial justice through his inspiring play on the field as well as his actions off of it; his career signified so much more than just 305 and 755. May he rest in peace.
Written by Jason Martinez for KCSB Sports.