Howard Bryant wrote a fantastic book on Henry Aaron last year. Today he has a fantastic column about Aaron’s political awakening in the early 60s, the Braves’ move to Atlanta and what both of those things meant for integration and the dawning of the “New South”:
1963 represented the convergence of Henry’s athletic skill and political awareness, but it also represented a pivotal moment in the history of the American South, one that significant political leaders from Andrew Young to Bill Clinton to Jimmy Carter believe has never been properly regarded in the evolution of the civil rights movement.
“People always talk about the marches and the protests, but what they don’t talk about is how big a part sports played in the economic part of the movement, in changing the perception of what the South was,” Young told me recently. “We had no professional sports teams, and the mayor, Ivan Allen, believed attracting pro sports and big pro events would be critical to proving to business leaders around the country that we did believe in a ‘new South.’
Bryant goes on to describe the role of professional sports — not just baseball — in the evolution of Atlanta from a somewhat sleepy southern town to a truly modern American city. It’s great stuff.
Between Bryant’s book and Aaron’s own wonderful autobiography, I don’t know that there is a ballplayer who has been more seriously and more thoroughly chronicled than Hank Aaron.