Hank Aaron, a legendary baseball Hall of Famer and important figure of the Civil Rights Movement, passed away last week at the age of 86. Our department chair reflects on his experience with Aaron — and two special autographs.
When I Interviewed Hank Aaron
By Chris Lamb
When I was a boy, my dad showed me his autograph of Jackie Robinson. I had it and then I couldn’t find it. I thought I permanently lost it. I carried the guilt with me for a long time. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, I worked at a radio station and interviewed Hank Aaron a few years after he had retired as Major League Baseball’s home run leader. After the interview, I asked him to sign his autograph for my dad. He kindly consented. (I never before or after asked anyone I interviewed for an autograph).
The next time I saw my dad, I gave it to him. My dad asked why I had given him the Aaron autograph. I said because I had lost his Jackie Robinson autograph. “No, you didn’t,” he said. He left the room and returned with it. He then gave me the Jackie Robinson autograph.
I have spent the last 25 years writing articles and books about Jackie Robinson, race, and sports. I teach courses on race and sports and talk about the importance of men like Robinson and Aaron. After my father died in August, my brother found the Aaron autograph and gave it to me.
It’s with the Jackie Robinson autograph.
When Aaron died last week, I took a look at the autographs and thought about Aaron, Robinson, my dad, my writing, research, and teaching, and the ties that bind us.