Major League Baseball and its fans are mourning the death of Hank Aaron today at age 86. Former presidents and fellow Hall of Famers recall his demeanor before and after hitting his 715th home run in Atlanta in 1974. Aaron endured racist threats with stoic dignity during his pursuit of Babe Ruth, breaking the career home run record in the pre-steroids era.
FOX10 News Anchor Lenise Ligon spoke with one of his childhood friends and civil rights leaders, Dr. Willie Clemons about Aaron's passing.
Here is the transcription of that interview:
How would you describe your friendship with Hank Aaron?
"Well, I have known Hank, since I was in high school and got to know the family. Then once moving to Atlanta 45 years ago...we rekindled our friendship...one I would say relationship that stands the test of time. Hank, was a unique individual, in the sense of his being very humble, very giving and very forgiving. Those were values that will always resonate with me, but that's the life that he lived. I have very fond memories. We traveled all over the country, we were engaged in many, many charitable and social events but we were also involved in things that were quite important to him, which was making a difference and improving the lives of our communities and especially the African American communities.
When you heard the news that Hank Aaron had died this morning. What was your reaction?
"Devastated. And the devastation comes certainly when anyone that you know and certainly love and who's been a part of your life dies. You know it's going to happen. But when it becomes sudden and unexpected, it certainly makes a difference. I had talked with him and his wife Billye. Recently, and they indicated to me that once COVID was under control they were going to be coming to Sarasota to visit with me and my wife because that was the sort of relationship that we had. So to hear that...I was in just in complete shock and so was my wife, we both were just numb."
How can Aaron's legacy be honored?
"Hank was passionate about providing opportunities for for others, especially the least.. those that were left behind those.. those who did not have the opportunity, those were labeled and especially African American males and so he championed those causes. He wanted to give them the opportunities that weren't given to him. And so with that, what one looks at in terms of his life, is the fact that he left an indelible mark and on the baseball. I mean that's will always be there, but he was also known and certainly wanted to be remembered for all of the philanthropic things that he did to improve the quality of life for us as African Americans.
In our last conversation, a couple of weeks ago, he shared with me, his commitment to work with an organization that I had hitched my wagon to here in Sarasota: The Visible Man Academy. It's a charter school for at risk boys of color. And he was very pleased that I had gotten involved with that and he certainly said hey, not only will I contribute, which I did, which he did, but I will also lend my name and support. And these are the kinds of things that he very quietly did with his Chasing The Dream Foundation and many of the other things that he had done. Just before I retired from Morehouse School of Medicine he was able to get them to name part of a building pavilion for his wife. He did that, not only to honor Billye, but also to provide opportunities to making sure that those students at Morehouse School of Medicine will get the best service and treatments so that they could go out into their particular fields of medicine and sciences. So that's the kind of person that you know that he was, he, he was very humble, very quiet, in that sense, he didn't have to toot his own horn."
Anything else you'd like to add?
"In remembrance, I think we should do what we can to keep his legacy alive. It could be ongoing with all the things that he has done...yes the baseball, but the things he did to impact the lives of others. Let's do the same thing to support these kinds of causes and these initiatives, provide the kinds of services needed and serve as role models for our youth...become engaged in our community to make a difference as he did. The torch has been passed. Hopefully we will accept it and run with it and carry it on in his name and for others yet to come."