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Baseball Great Hank Aaron Remembered At Atlanta Funeral

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Atlanta, baseball bid farewell to the Hammer today. Fans and loved ones gathered to honor the life of Hank Aaron.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Friendship Baptist Church was not nearly as full as it might have been because of the pandemic. But while in-person attendance was sparse, love for the former home run king was overflowing.

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BUD SELIG: Henry was a man of grace, a man of patience, a man of tolerance, remarkable dignity under many tough situations, integrity and loyalty. Henry, we're going to miss you.

CHANG: That's former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. When Hank Aaron was growing up in Mobile, Ala., there were no Black players in the major leagues. Baseball's color barrier was broken by the time Aaron made the majors, but he started in the segregated Negro Leagues, and he still faced plenty of racism.

SHAPIRO: That ugliness reached a peak in 1974. Aaron, a Black man playing in the Deep South for the Atlanta Braves, broke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record. He was deluged with hate mail and death threats, but he persevered.

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ANDREW YOUNG: The last time and probably the only time I heard him complain was, you know, all of my friends and brothers in the old Negro Leagues are gone except me. Well, he's with them now, but he has not left us.

CHANG: Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young was one of the many dignitaries to pay tribute. In fact, almost every living president has honored Hank Aaron since he died, including Bill Clinton today.

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BILL CLINTON: He aspired to close the racial divide, not by tearing anybody down but by lifting people up; not by demeaning people but by opening their minds and opening their eyes and opening their hearts.

CHANG: Baseball great Hank Aaron died last Friday of natural causes. He was 86 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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