Major League Baseball enlists two Atlanta legends for Civil Rights history lesson at Young Middle

In honor of Black History Month, Major League Baseball‘s long-time home run king Hank Aaron was joined by former U.N. Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and Major League Baseball to talk to students about the sport’s connection to the Civil Rights Movement during an assembly at Jean Childs Young Middle School on Feb. 14.

Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president of baseball initiatives for the Major League Baseball, opened the assembly by asking the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. “Did you know that Ambassador Young wanted to be a dentist — just like his daddy?” said Solomon. “And that Hank Aaron wanted to be a carpenter? Kids like you can be whatever it is you want to be. But it is going to require a lot of hard work.”

Following Solomon, Major League Baseball’s home run king Hank Aaron told students, “I knew I wanted to be a baseball player, but I wanted to be the best player that I could be.” He added, “If you want to be a doctor, be the best that you can be. If you want to be a lawyer, be the best. Set your goals high.” Aaron also encouraged the students to take advantage of everything the school is offering them: “This school is preparing you to be the best in life. All of you mean a lot to me.”

Andrew Young made the connection between baseball and the Civil Rights Movement. “Before Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947,” said Young. “In 1947, I just started Morehouse College and Martin was a student at Morehouse. Jackie Robinson had the weight of the whole race on his back.” Young added that Robinson traveled to Albany, Ga., to help with voter registration and how he broke down barriers.

Young also talked about how influential Coretta Scott King and his late wife, Jean Childs Young (for whom the school is named), were in the Civil Rights Movement because of their upbringing in Alabama and race relations at the time. “We may not have experienced the Civil Rights Movement without the women we married,” said Young. “These ladies had the fire and courage.” He added how former Mayor Maynard Holbrook Jackson paved the way for him because “he was such a good mayor.”

Young and Aaron, who both reside in the school’s neighborhood and whose children attended the school, pledged to support the school’s new baseball program coming this spring.

The message from the event resonated with many of the students. “I did not know that baseball was integrated before everything else,” said Alexandria Wilson, a seventh-grader at Young Middle, said, “Today’s experience for me was very powerful! I learned a lot about the people who paved the way for me.” Seventh-grader Tian Lu said, “Today’s program was inspiring and it helped me to make a final decision on my future career. I did not know Ambassador Young wanted to be a dentist!”

The assembly was part of Major League Baseball’s fifth annual Civil Rights Game being hosted by the Atlanta Braves May 12-15, 2011, as a tribute to Civil Rights History in Atlanta and nationwide. The Braves will play the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field on May 15. Activities will include a ceremony and screening of a documentary “Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream,” at the Fox Theatre and the “Baseball and the Civil Rights Movement” roundtable discussion at Ebenezer Baptist Church. For more information about the weekend, visit http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=13054235.

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