Atlanta school board renames school in honor of Hank Aaron

ATLANTA — School board members in Atlanta on Monday voted unanimously to rename a school carrying the name of a Confederate general and an original Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan for baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

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The Atlanta School Board voted to remove the name of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from Forrest Hill Academy and name it for Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record in 1974 and also broke racial barriers, The New York Times reported.

The school now will be called Hank Aaron New Beginnings Academy, AL.com reported. The new name will go into effect this year for the public alternative school for middle and high school students, the Times reported.

Aaron, who died on Jan. 22, 2021, at the age of 86, made his major league debut on April 13, 1954, with the Milwaukee Braves. He endured hate mail and death threats as he chased Ruth’s home run mark. Aaron passed Ruth on April 8, 1974, when he hit home run No. 715 off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium.

According to a school district policy in Atlanta, there is a five-year waiting period after a notable person dies until a school building can be named for that person, AL.com reported. That policy can be waived through a unanimous vote by school board members, which is what happened Monday.

“The South has a lot to offer with respect to historical teachings and oppression,” Michelle D. Olympiadis, a school board member, said during the meeting. “It’s very important that we understand our history.”

Names do matter,” Jason F. Esteves, Atlanta’s school board chairman, said during Monday’s meeting.

Aaron was also honored in Jacksonville, Florida, as City Council members on Tuesday unanimously voted to incorporate the slugger’s name into a baseball field.

The Jacksonville City Council voted to add “Henry L. Aaron Field” to J.P. Small Memorial Stadium, WJAX reported.

Aaron played one minor league season in Jacksonville in 1953, hitting 22 home runs and batting .362 for the South Atlantic League squad that won the league title.

Aaron, a native of Mobile, Alabama, played nine of his 23 major league seasons in Atlanta, accompanying the National League franchise to Georgia in 1966 when it relocated from Milwaukee.