Baseball great Hank Aaron passed away today and I went into a quick dive into his life after reading this excellent write up by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
A Hall of Famer, Atlanta’s first professional sports star, and, in a soft-spoken way, an agent of change in the post-Jim Crow South, Aaron came to embody the city as he embodied the Braves.
Baseball’s all-time home run king died Friday at the age of 86, according to Channel 2 Action News and several reports. The Braves have not confirmed Aaron’s death.
“I don’t think too many people got a chance to know me through the years, and that was something that was my own doing, because I’m actually kind of a loner, a guy that has stayed to himself,” Aaron said in a 2006 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “A lot of people thought they knew me, but they really didn’t.
“They pretend that they know me, but I travel alone. I do just about everything alone. I have associates, but I don’t have many friends. I would just want to be remembered as somebody who just tried to be fair with people.”
I grew up in a basketball and football household, but my dad kept up with baseball and I went to a handful of Braves games growing up. Hank Aaron was just kind of a vague figure in the back of my mind, someone I knew had a lot of home runs, but that’s about all I knew about the man. The AJC paints a vivid picture of a soft-spoken Black man in the Deep South navigating his way through baseball during the Civil Rights Era, and it’s an engaging read from top to bottom. This particular section jumped out at me:
Aaron had eight seasons with 40 or more home runs, the last coming in 1973, when he finished the year with 713 homers and an estimated 930,000 pieces of mail. Much of it was racist. There also were enough death threats for the FBI to get involved. Aaron received personal protection through the off-season.
That’s like 3,000 pieces of mail a day! I did a quick dive into it so let’s set the scene.
Babe Ruth played baseball from 1914 to 1935, and interestingly enough, while I most associate him with the NY Yankees, he started and ended his career in Boston. He set numerous baseball records (two of which still stand today) and in 1936, he was one of the inaugural five members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s one of the greatest sports heroes of all time, Trump gave him a Medal of Freedom in 2018, and the official candy bar of Major League Baseball bears his name (even though it wasn’t created for him, it became inextricably associated with him during the height of his fame). He also hit 714 home runs in his career, a record which stood for almost four decades until Hank Aaron came along.
By the early 70s, Hank Aaron had been quietly chipping away at Babe Ruth’s home run record for twenty years, first with the Milwaukee Braves and then in Atlanta when the team moved to Georgia in 1965. At the end of the 1972 season, Hank had 673 home runs, and for a player who already had eight seasons where he hit 40 or more home runs, it was assumed he would indeed break Babe Ruth’s record of 714 in the very near future. Baseball fans follow the game, so baseball fans were aware of Hank’s hitting stats. Racist America follows notable Black people, and this Black man putting himself within striking distance of a white man’s achievement made the country take note. The amount of hate mail spiked once non fans became aware of Hank’s threat to a record they didn’t even really care about until it was in danger of being broken by a Black player.
On July 21st of 1973, Hank Aaron hit #700 and he was receiving about 3,000 pieces of mail a day. The Braves hired a secretary just to handle Hank’s mail, and team management forbid him from opening his own letters to shield him from the vitriol.
The volume was so great that the Braves assigned secretary Carla Koplin to handle Aaron’s mail. That freed up his time but also shielded the legendary slugger from some of the vile remarks and death threats aimed at him. There were also some congratulatory letters and words of encouragement, but the negative comments heavily outweighed the positive and the Braves gave Aaron his own security detail.
“I was forbidden to open mail for two and a half years. I had a secretary that had to open all my mail and when the games were over with, I had to go out of the back of the baseball parks.”
When the season ended in October, Hank had 713 home runs, one shy of the record. The next six months gave racist America ample time to seethe and write. Hate mail turned to death threats and anyone remotely supportive of Hank was a target.
Lewis Grizzard, then sports editor of the Atlanta Journal, reported receiving numerous phone calls calling journalists “nigger lovers” for covering Aaron’s chase. While preparing the massive coverage of the home run record, he quietly had an obituary written, afraid that Aaron might be murdered.
(cont. Hank Aaron)
Hank Aaron made it to the 1974 season and broke Babe Ruth’s record in Atlanta on April 8th. Between July 1973 and June 1974, Hank Aaron received over 930,000 pieces of mail, the most ever for a private citizen, and a record that still stands today. When I saw that Hank Aaron had a Guinness World Record, I assumed it was for home runs, but his record was broken by Barry Bonds in 2007. Hank has a world record not for baseball, but for racism — America’s other great pastime.
Take this Jim Crow era literacy test for Black people.
I have a master’s degree, and I failed on the first question.
I know what a literacy test is, but sadly, I’d never looked one up to see what the questions were like. During Jim Crow, they were used to keep Black people from voting. Some poor and illiterate whites got caught in the net as well, and that makes sense for a country who, when founded, only gave voting rights to landowning whites, but the purpose was to keep Black people from being heard. Former congressional candidate Gary Chambers Jr. posted a literacy test today, and you can’t pass it. I can’t pass it. No one can pass it.
This particular test from Louisiana in 1964 was to be administered to anyone who could not prove they had finished 5th grade or higher, which would overwhelmingly apply to more Black people. We had less access to education and were more likely to quit school in order to work the land and help our parents keep a meager roof over the family’s head back when so many Black people were sharecroppers.
And there’s no uniform key for this test. The white registrar reads the answers and decides whether you answered correctly or not. I’m sure this test, on the rare occasion it was given to white people at all, was graded more leniently when the hand turning it in wasn’t colored.
So. Take it and see if you would be able to vote in Louisiana in 1964, less than 60 years ago.
Ten minutes to complete 30 questions is about twenty seconds per question, and you have to get every single one correct. If this was an actual literacy test, I would pass with flying colors, because I can read well enough to know that some of these questions are unanswerable, but it’s not about literacy. It’s about creating a standard that no one can meet and then applying it unfairly to Black people. It’s giving Black people additional burdens to be perfect that white people don’t have. It’s disparaging Michelle Obama for showing her arms in her White House portrait even though Melania has nude photoshoots online. It’s arresting Black people for marijuana at 3 times the rate of white people, even though the same percentage of Black people smoke weed as white people. (x) It’s Black college students being just as likely to find employment as white people who didn’t even finish high school. (x) It’s cops shooting unarmed Black people and taking a white mass shooter to Burger King. (x)
A lot of Black kids heard this refrain from our parents growing up: You have to be twice as good as the white folks to get half as far. However. When the judge and jury of your achievement is White America, you can still fail the test they never even have to take.
A moment for Gwen Berry
It’s so funny to me that Conservatives think we care what they have to say about Gwen Berry being unpatriotic when those same people don’t care that the Capitol was stormed and vandalized.
One of these is a protest.
The other is a crime.
**Black lady turns away from the flag.**
WHAT A DISGRACE TO AMERICA!
**White people break into the Capitol and erect a gallows to hang elected officials.**
awwww economic anxiety
France is giving the United States another Statue of Liberty.
Another symbol of liberty to a country that’s still oppressing its people.
NYC has another Statue of Liberty on the way. France is sending us a smaller version to be placed on Ellis Island just across the water from Liberty Island where the original stands as a beacon to freedom…or something.
This new bronze statue, nicknamed the “little sister,” is one-sixteenth the size of the world-famous one that stands on Liberty Island.
“The statue symbolizes freedom and the light around all the world,” said Olivier Faron, general administrator of the CNAM [National Museum of Arts and Crafts]. “We want to send a very simple message: Our friendship with the United States is very important, particularly at this moment. We have to conserve and defend our friendship.”
If you want to put a symbol of “freedom and light” anywhere, it shouldn’t be in the United States.
If you want to give the Statue of Liberty to the United States all over again anyway, give it in the spirit with which it was originally intended in the first place — as a gift to celebrate Black Americans.
I grew up with the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of hope and freedom for immigrants. “Give us your tired, your poor…” and all that, but Lady Liberty had been there for twenty years before those lines by Emma Lazarus were inscribed onto a plaque and installed at the pedestal. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of immigration (the voluntary kind, not the shackled and chained way most Black people got here) for two reasons. One, immigrants latched onto the massive sculpture, which is understandable because she was the first image of New York for most European immigrants arriving by boat on the way to be processed at nearby Ellis Island. Two, the creator, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, pitched the idea to raise funding from Americans in the most general terms of “liberty” without specifically referencing Black Americans. His plan worked since the United States did indeed agree to pay for the pedestal if France paid for the actual statue, but it was a pivot away from the original idea.
Édouard de Laboulaye was a French abolitionist and it was he, along with his social circle of abolitionists, who conceived of a massive gift to present to the United States after the Civil War — once slavery was outlawed. The proposal of Lady Liberty initially held broken and shackles to signify the broken chains of slavery instead of the tablet she holds today. The chains eventually made their way into the final version down around her feet, the original significance lost to most people and barely noticed.
The years immediately following the Civil War were filled with promise for Black Americans and de Laboulaye wanted to recognize that. We made great strides in education, civic engagement, and politics, but the South regained its footing and struck a compromise in the 1876 Presidential Election that saw federal troops removed from the Old Confederacy. Black people were back in chains, invisible shackles placed on our communities through coalitions built between lawmakers and law enforcement, private businesses and private citizens. When Bartholdi finished Lady Liberty, there was no way to “sell” the idea to the United States as a celebration of slavery’s end. Black America hated the idea, because we were being oppressed, terrorized, and murdered, and White America would’ve scoffed, because they were doing the terrorizing. She was pitched as a symbol of liberty, immigrants saw her as the first welcoming image of the United States, and then the government solidified that feeling by using words from Emma Lazarus.
Today, it’s more important than ever to remember why the Statue of Liberty was conceived in the first place, not a symbol of general liberty and freedom, but as a symbol of Black liberty and freedom. We are still fighting to have our history accurately taught in schools. We are still fighting to be the country de Laboulaye thought we were becoming when slavery ended. And we are still fighting to live up to the promise Lady Liberty has symbolized to millions of immigrants. This little sister will probably be all over the news as we get closer to July 4th, so whenever you see her, make sure you remind somebody that the Statue of Liberty was supposed to be a gift to celebrate the end of slavery, but the US put Black people back in chains too quickly for her to actually symbolize liberty and freedom for us.
Simone Biles and the Twisties.
Adventures in rehab.
99% of COVID deaths in the US are unvaccinated.
Take this Jim Crow era literacy test for Black people.
99% of COVID deaths in the US are unvaccinated.
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