Hank Aaron and the Home Run That Changed America : Hank Aaron and the Pursuit of a Dream
Baseball has witnessed more than 125,000 major-league home runs. Many have altered the outcomes of games, and some, swatted into the stands on dramatic last swings, have decided pennants and won reputations. But no home run has played a more significant role in influencing American society than Hank Aaron's 715th.
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April 04, 2004
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Excerpt from Hank Aaron and the Home Run That Changed America by Tom Stanton
They came in silence and in somber suits. Thousands of them, many famous, most not, politicians and sports stars and civil rights leaders alongside schoolchildren and factory workers and fans of a team that long ago played in Brooklyn. They came from across the country, by plane and train and limousine, from Washington and Chicago, from Pasadena, California, and Mobile, Alabama, and every borough of New York City, a river of people flowing through the heavy, etched doors of the Neo-Gothic Riverside Church near Harlem, flowing beneath a dingy row of granite angels into the cool, solemn darkness of a sanctuary where the Rev. Martin Luther King once pleaded for peace.
They came for Jackie Robinson.
It was warm for late October, a Friday in 1972, the presidential election just days away. Outside, the sky was bright with sunshine, the crowded pavement drenched in the shadows of the twenty-one-story church. Inside, light filtered through stained-glass windows and touched the wooden pews as mourners strode past the open, gray-blue casket of the man who in 1947 had become the first black to play baseball in the major leagues.
A young preacher, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, gave the eulogy that morning. Standing tall in a full Afro that fell upon the back collar of his black-and-red robe, he spoke of the former ballplayer, his cadenced, deliberate voice buffed by a South Carolina accent. "His powerful arms lifted not only bats but barriers," said Jackson. He looked out at more than three thousand mourners. Among them were Robinson's family; entertainers, activists, and athletes like Joe Louis, Roberta Flack, and Bill Russell; an entourage of forty representing President Richard Nixon; baseball executives; white Dodger teammates such as Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Branca; and a roster of black ballplayers who, within a decade of Robinson's debut, had followed him into the major leagues: Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Monte Irvin, Willie Mays, Joe Black, Junior Gilliam, Ernie Banks, Elston Howard, and Hank Aaron.