8 Times Hank Aaron Faced Racism: #2, Even in Wisconsin

Here is the second installment of the terrific series by Chris Mays, highlighting some times that Hank Aaron faced racism. These were originally posted on his blog, The 8 Things, and are reprinted with permission.

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If it was strange for those White Folks in Eau Claire to be around black people, it was just as strange for me to be around them.

After signing the Hammer, the Braves assigned him to their class D team in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Aaron was playing in Chicago with the Clowns, and he put his new cardboard suitcase, a gift from Clowns owner Syd Pollock, on the train for Milwaukee and climbed aboard a plane for the trip to Eau Claire.

I was a nervous wreck, bouncing around the sky over a part of the country I'd hardly ever heard about, much less been to, headed to a white town to play ball with white boys.

Wisconsin was nothing like the south. For one thing, there wasn't open hostility and hatred towards African-Americans. Additionally, since several other African-Americans had played for the team over the past two seasons, the town was prepared for Aaron's arrival which would help control the culture shock. He also had two African-American teammates, Julie Bowers and Wes Covington, which would help ease his transition to integrated baseball. Still, Wisconsin was a strange place for Aaron and a difficult adjustment.

Whenever Aaron would go out in the town, people would stare at him. He remembers a little girl at a restaurant where he was having breakfast who couldn't take her eyes off of him and a man who just "gawked" as Aaron walked through a parking lot outside the stadium. Aaron was never the most gregarious of men, but after arriving in Wisconsin he was so out of sorts that he would barely utter a word.

It made you feel like you should start tap dancing or something.

Other times, he would face the type of racism of which he was already familiar. Aaron and the other African-American players were taken in by a white family in town who were very progressive and big supporters of the team. Hank and the daughter took a liking to one another and would sit on the back porch holding hands. Still, they knew not to be seen together in town. Once, Aaron, Bowers and Covington went to a hangout in the countryside with the daughter and several other girls. Some of the local men found out and took off looking for them. Fortunately, they weren't found because the girls hid them in the bushes.

Aaron began to long for home and was seriously considering quitting. He called home and his brother reminded him of the opportunity that has been given to him and Aaron decided to carry on. Despite some initial doubts about his ability to perform against white players, he would become one of the stars of the league. His ability to hit the ball remained unquestioned and he would rip the opposing team's pitchers to shreds. Aaron would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award for the league. He was the third player from the Eau Claire team to capture the award in as many seasons. Of course, the paper reported it as Aaron being the third of "his race" to win the award. 

Still, Eau Claire was a veritable paradise compared to Aaron's time in Jacksonville.

My primary source for the information in this series is Hank Aaron's 1991 autobiography, I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story, co-written with Lonnie Wheeler.

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