Photographed for Delta Sky by Harold Daniels.
Hank Aaron at Turner Field in Atlanta on June 28, 2013.
Hank Aaron, 79, played in the major leagues for 23 seasons—all but two of them with what became the Atlanta Braves—and he is now a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1974, he hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s record. Aaron retired with 755 career home runs, a record that stood until 2007.
DID YOU EVER MEET DR. KING? “I did, when I came to Atlanta to play baseball. I didn’t know him as well as I knew some other people in the civil rights movement, but I thought he was somebody special. I felt invigorated no matter whether he was speaking before the NAACP or the White House. I thought he was put here to do god’s work. I never did go to his church, but I heard many speeches he made. On my little cellphone, I have practically all of them. I listen to them when I’m traveling. I have my headphones on and it gives me strength to go on and do some things.”
WHERE WERE YOU DURING THE DREAM SPEECH? “I was in Savannah and almost 30 years old when he made [the “Dream” speech]. I was doing something related to baseball. At that time, I was hoping that many people heard that speech, because it just made the playing field a little bit more level. To let people know that all we wanted was to just have an opportunity to do what we could do as human beings.”
DID HIS WORDS HELP YOU GET THROUGH YOUR PURSUIT OF BABE RUTH’S HOME-RUN RECORD? “I thought, ‘Why can some people be so hateful when all I’m doing is playing baseball? I’m just trying to bring a little enjoyment to everybody. And records are made to be broken.’ But, yes, I thought about Dr. King’s message of nonviolence. Just go out there and do what God has given you permission and the strength to do: Play baseball.”
WHAT, TO YOU, IS HIS LEGACY? “The most important thing Dr. King tried to make people understand is that most things can be figured out if you sit down and talk. And that we should all—no matter whether we’re black or white—do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. I’m just happy that I got the chance to meet and shake hands with him and understand what he meant. There are still problems in the world, we still have some people who look at black and white as different. But it makes me stronger to hear Dr. King’s words, what he meant. All I gotta do is continue to keep my head straight and do what I’m supposed to do.”
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