It is difficult for us today to understand the significance of April 8, 1974. On that day in Atlanta, Henry Aaron hit his 715th career home run in Major League Baseball. In doing so Aaron surpassed the record of the legendary Babe Ruth, a record that had stood for 40 years.
That it was the Bambino`s record that was broken was massive. Babe Ruth still holds a place in the pantheon of Baseball icons. However, in 1974 the Babe was, in the minds of most Americans, the greatest ball player, if not the greatest athlete, of all time. The home run mark of 714 seemed unassailable when it was set in the 1930`s. But even more significant than the record was the colour of the skin of the man who broke it. Hank Aaron was black. For an African-American, a negro as he would have been known for most of his career, to break the greatest record in sports, was unthinkable. Hank Aaron still has the letters to prove it:
Hank Aaron has the letters tucked away in his attic, preserved these last 40 years. He’s not ready to let them go.
He almost has them memorized by now, but still he carefully opens them up and reads every word, as if he wants to feel the pain.
“You are (not) going to break this record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it,” one of them reads. “Whites are far more superior than jungle bunnies. My gun is watching your every black move.”
Yes, Aaron even saved the death threats, the ones that vowed to end his life if he dared break Ruth’s cherished all-time home run record. (USA TODAY)