For more than three decades, Hank Aaron has been best known for hitting more home runs than any other baseball player in history. However, the baseball icon also spoke out against pervasive racism in major league baseball and broke racial barriers throughout his career. Despite hate mail, death threats against him and a plan to kidnap one of his daughters, Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record on April 8, 1974 when he hit his 715th homerun. At the end of his career, “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron had a total of 755 homeruns. Aaron set twelve other major league records by his retirement from the playing field in 1976 and won three Gold Glove Awards. He became one of the first blacks in Major League Baseball upper-level management when Braves owner Ted Turner appointed him vice president of player development. On August 1, 1982, Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame receiving 97.8 percent of the ballots cast. Aaron is a longtime supporter of civil rights organizations such as the NAACP. He co-founded with his wife, educator Billye, the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation to help children develop their potential.
Henry Louis Aaron was one of eight children born to Herbert and Estella Aaron in a poor black community in Mobile. When Aaron was eight, his father, a dry dock boilermaker’s assistant and tavern owner, built a home for his family in the Toulminvile community. At 14, Aaron made the decision to be a major league baseball player after hearing a speech by his hero Jackie Robinson, the African American player who integrated the major leagues. Young Aaron played for the semi-pro team the Black Bears while still in high school. At 18, he was playing for the Indianopolis Clowns, one of the last of the teams in the Negro Baseball League. He joined the Boston Braves in 1952, and played in his first major league game with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954.
In 2002, President George W. Bush awarded Aaron the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his philanthropy and humanitarian endeavors. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund awarded him the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005; the organization also established the Hank Aaron Humanitarian in Sports Award.
Hank Aaron’s powerhouse swing forever changed the landscape of baseball. But the home-run king’s legacy has transcended the baseball field. Aaron continues to hit home runs with the greater Milwaukee community through a scholarship fund at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. Following his retirement from baseball in 1976, the Hank Aaron Youth Fund was established as a tribute to the former Milwaukee Braves and Brewers player. Aaron had asked that in place of a personal farewell gift, a fund be established in his name to help young people in Milwaukee. The fund, now known as the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Fund, provides financial assistance to low-income children in Milwaukee, ages 9 to 12, who wish to develop a talent or skill and pursue their dreams – whether basketball or ballet.