Henry Louis Aaron, nicknamed ‘Hammerin’ Hank,’ was born the third of eight on Feb. 5, 1934 in an underprivileged neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama. At the young age of 8, Henry and his family moved to Toulminville, a middle-class neighborhood nearby, where he developed a passion for baseball and football. He attended segregated Central High School, where he played third base and shortstop on the school’s team.
In his junior year, young Henry transferred to a private school that had a structured baseball program. In 1951, he left high school to play for the Indianapolis Clowns, a team in the Negro Leagues, which he led to victory in the league’s 1952 World Series. Shortly after, he was recruited for $10,000 by the Milwaukee Braves and named “Northern League Rookie of the Year.” Two years later, in 1954, at the age of 20, he joined the MLB. His first year he had a batting average of .280, and in the 1955 season he hit more than 27 home runs, had 106 runs batted in, and held a batting average of .328. During the 1957 World Series against the New York Yankees, Aaron hit a home run in the 11th inning, causing the Braves to win which was a major upset, and helping him to earn the title of the National League’s MVP.
Aaron was a loyal activist in the civil rights movement; he also supported the NAACP. Together with his wife, Billye, Aaron created the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation to help children develop and achieve their potential. In addition, the baseball superstar would speak about opportunities for minorities. He once stated, “On the field, blacks have been able to be super giants. But once our playing days are over, this is the end of it and we go back to the back of the bus again.”
Over the next decade and a half, Aaron continued to succeed, averaging 30 to 40 home runs per season. At the age of 39, he achieved a skyrocketing high of 40 home runs, just one run behind Babe Ruth’s sacred record of 714. Aaron began to receive death threats and hate mail that said a black man should not dare try to break baseball’s most sanctified record. On April 8, 1974, Aaron broke the record with his 715th home run in the fourth inning against the LA Dodgers. Afterwards, he returned to Milwaukee to finish his career, and retired there as a player, later becoming executive vice president of the Atlanta Braves.
Today, the 81-year-old Aaron is senior vice president of the Braves, and a leader and spokesman on getting players of color into the league. Aaron was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1982, and in 1999, the MLB introduced the Hank Aaron Award, which would be presented every year to the best overall hitter in each league. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 from President George W. Bush because of Aaron’s humanitarian ventures. Aaron now resides in Georgia and remains one of the best hitters in baseball history. He is responsible for breaking many baseball records; he is especially known for obtaining the most career home runs (755 in total), which lasted for more than two decades. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund awarded him the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.
Watch the below video for an interview with ‘Hammerin Hank’ who was honored with the A.G. Gaston Award last year at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Summit.