Along with “Sounder,” a film about Depression-era black
sharecroppers facing various crises, Tyson’s significant
work included a TV film, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane
Pittman,” and roles portraying Harriet Tubman, Coretta Scott
King, Chicago educator Marva Collins, the mothers of Rosa
Parks and Olympic track star Wilma Rudolph.
Tyson won three Emmys, a
SAG Award, a Tony and an honorary Academy Award and
continued working on screen and in Broadway roles past the
age of 90.
Hank Aaron, born in
Mobile, Alabama in 1934, also grew up in poverty – so poor
his family could not afford baseball equipment. He would
practice hitting bottle caps with sticks. He had his first
tryout with a major league baseball organization at the age
of 15 but did not make the team.
During high school, Aaron
joined an independent Nego league team, the Mobile Black
Bears, after a stint with the Pritchard Athletics, earning
$3 per game.
Finally, in 1951, a scout
signed Aaron to a contract with the Indianapolis Clowns of
the Negro American League. Aaron did so well that, after
three months, he received offers from MLB teams, the New
York Giants and the Boston Braves. The Braves offered $50
more per month.
Aaron was called up to the
major leagues in 1954 and was a model of consistency over
the years. The Ruthian 714 mark was often discussed in the
50s and 60s but Aaron was not often in the discussion.
Players with flashier yearly statistics, the Yankees’ Mickey
Mantle and the Giants’ Willie Mays, for example, were given
much better odds at topping the mark than Aaron. However,
Mantle, then Mays, slowed down during the later years of
their careers. The Twins’ Harmon Killibrew was a dark horse
candidate, but he also fell short over the course of time.
Aaron just plugged along,
never hitting more than 47 home runs in a year, but his
career didn’t tail off. He hit home run number 715 in his 21st
season and was immediately assailed by of an increasing
deluge racist death threats, hate mail and calls.
Increasing, that is, because the vitriol had begun in
earnest during the off season as racist baseball fans
realized he was on the cusp of overtaking the beloved home
read most of them, but I wanted to have them as reminders,”
Aaron later wrote of his hate mail messages in his
autobiography. “I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story.”
feeling more and more strongly that I had to break the
record not only for myself and for Jackie Robinson and for
black people, but also to strike back at the vicious little
people who wanted to keep me from doing it. All that hatred
left a deep scar on me.
“I was just
a man doing something that God had given me the power to do,
and I was living like an outcast in my own country. I had
nowhere to go except home and to the ballpark, home and to
the ballpark. I was a prisoner in my own apartment. … That
whole period, I lived like a guy in a fishbowl, swimming
from side to side with nowhere to go, watching everybody
After he retired, Aaron
joined the Atlanta Braves in the front office eventually
becoming the vice president of player development. In 1992,
he was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame with 98.2
percent of the ballots (second only to Ty Cobb). In 1999
Sporting News named him the fifth best baseball player of
the 20th Century.
Dignity, grace and a sense
of the positive impact they could make on their fellow
African Americans marked the lives and careers of both
Cicely Tyson and Hank Aaron.
Hank Aaron died on January
22, 2021; Cicely Tyson died on January 28, 2021.
May their memories be a