APRIL 8, 1974

Despite death threats, Hank Aaron shattered Babe Ruth’s home run record while playing for the Atlanta Braves. 

He battled racism from the day he began playing baseball. “We had breakfast while we were waiting for the rain to stop, and I can still envision sitting with the (team) in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium and hearing them break all the plates in the kitchen after we finished eating,” he recalled. “What a horrible sound. Even as a kid, the irony of it hit me: here we were in the capital in the land of freedom and equality, and they had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of black men. If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them.” 

In the South, Jim Crow laws forced him to stay and eat in different places than the team. His brother, Herbert Jr., encouraged him to not give up. The former Negro Leaguer played in a record 24 All-Star Games and was MVP in 1957.  As he neared Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs, he received nearly 1 million pieces of mail, many of them death threats and hate mail. When he hit his record 715th run in Atlanta, he received a standing ovation. 

Baseball announcer Vin Scully declared, “What a marvelous moment for baseball; what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia; what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron … And for the first time in a long time, that poker face in Aaron shows the tremendous strain and relief of what it must have been like to live with for the past several months.” 

Aaron finished his career with a record 755 career home runs, and the Atlanta Braves’ Turner Field now has a statue that immortalizes his record-breaking home run.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.