8 Times Hank Aaron Faced Racism: #6, Atlanta

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

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When the Braves first moved to Milwaukee, they drew record crowds. The crowds would stay strong throughout the 1950s, but they would drop off as the years went by. During the 1957 season, when the Braves captured their only world championship in Milwaukee, they drew 2.2 million people. In their last year in Milwaukee, 1965, they only drew 550,000. The team's new ownership decided that they would like to try their luck in a new market. With no major league team in the south, they decided Atlanta, home of the Braves' AAA team, would be a good choice. Hankaaron3_medium

Hank Aaron was apprehensive about the move from the moment it was announced. He had enjoyed his time in Milwaukee immensely, and loved the fans there as much as they loved him. Since he had grown up in Mobile, he was also unsure about moving back to the segregated south. Sure, Atlanta was among the most progressive cities in the south, but it was still far behind Milwaukee in the area of racial understanding.

Although Aaron was thrilled to find a vibrant and successful African-American community upon his arrival in Atlanta, he also faced a racial backlash from day one. He began receiving a hate letter or two almost every day in the mail. His wife had an incident with a security guard at a gate by the stadium that led to charges against her. (The charges were dropped when the racial overtones of the situation became known.) He would have racial slurs hurled at him nightly.

Aaron would also become more vocal in his criticism of the practices employed by most of the big league teams. In his last year in Milwaukee, Aaron had decried the lack of black managers in the game for an article in Sport magazine. In the first year in Atlanta, he launched a full fledged rant against the rulers of the game in Jet magazine. Aaron would let loose with a laundry list of the ways minority players were discriminated against, including salary discrepancies, the lack of African-American managers and a near total absence of minorities in the front office. There would be the predictable backlash from many of the white fans, who would accuse him of not being sufficiently grateful for his position.

Still, Aaron would persevere and he would become a hero to many in Atlanta. It was during his time in Atlanta that he would finally become the nationwide star that his talent demanded. As the careers of his contemporaries, like Willie Mays and Ernie Banks, slowed down, Aaron would maintain his remarkable consistency at the plate. It was while playing in Atlanta that Hank Aaron wouldn't just become known as one of the best players in the game now, but as one of the best of all-time.

The move to Atlanta also landed him in the middle of an activist minority community where he would become more vocal than ever on racial issues. He realized that with his popularity as a Major League Baseball player, he was in a position to accomplish much good. He felt a responsibility to his fellow African-American players and he was happy to shoulder the burden. To his immense credit, many believe that Aaron helped usher in a new level of racial understanding in the Atlanta area. These were remarkable accomplishments from a remarkable individual.

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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