Recently, baseball great Hank Aaron died at age 86. The celebrated home run hitter overcame a shameful barrage of racist hostility when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record on April 8, 1974, in Atlanta. It’s time for the Atlanta Braves to change their name to the Hammers, in honor of “hammering” Hank Aaron.
In the wake of Aaron’s death, the Journal posted some articles on Aaron’s visits to Winston. The Journal seems to do a better job of looking back than looking forward these days. Who the hell knew that Aaron signed his first professional contract at the City’s Union Station? Or that Hank Aaron was at the 2007 groundbreaking for BB&T Ballpark (now Truist Stadium). Aaron was brought to BB&T Ballpark’s groundbreaking to whitewash the elimination of the Watkins Street neighborhood. Surely, Aaron was unaware that the last of the African American West End had been destroyed for the City’s new ballpark.
“In some ways, the Watkins Street neighborhood is the forgotten part of the city. It is cut off from everything. The people there have been struggling for a long time to get something done in that area.” -Winston-Salem Chronicle, 1982
One interesting historical tidbit that the Journal didn’t report was Aaron’s endorsement of Camel cigarettes. I bring this up not to malign Aaron but to make a larger point. Back in 1962, when Aaron endorsed Camel cigarettes, he was hardly alone. Celebrity cigarette ads were ubiquitous at that time. Tobacco and baseball were intertwined, and even doctors endorsed cigarettes!
Seeing Aaron with a Camel in his hand should cause us all to reflect on Big Tobacco’s relentless efforts to attract African American smokers. For decades menthol cigarettes (not Camels) have been shamelessly marketed to African Americans. Newport cigarettes are the perfect cancer delivery agent, from Tobaccoville to African Americans around the country. It’s time to ban menthol cigarettes. This is a civil rights issue.2021-01-22-State-Comments-on-Citizen-Petition-on-Menthol-in-Cigarettes
Yes, Hank Aaron did sign his first professional contract at the Winston-Salem train station. https://t.co/WAtE4ZJsda
— Winston-Salem Journal (@JournalNow) January 22, 2021