Week of Feb. 8

Celebrating Hank Aaron and Chester Higgins

Hank Aaron
Written by Mark Irby, Partner

When I read a text Hank Aaron died recently, I was suddenly and unexpectedly overcome with a wave of emotion. My thoughts immediately went to what Hank Aaron endured and overcame throughout his life more than any accomplishment on the baseball field. That is saying a lot given his baseball achievements are considered unassailable. Many know Hank Aaron aka “the Hammer” as the Home Run King, but there are also sadly way too many people unaware of the long journey he took on the way to passing Babe Ruth’s exalted and long held home run record on April 8, 1974. Hank Aaron was a giant among all men and women as he endured countless racial slurs and threats every single day for years on end and he continued to march on playing a game he loved in the Deep South during the middle of the Civil Rights movement. There were many who rooted against him just because of his skin color and they were not shy about letting Hank Aaron know how they rooted for his failure. The undeserved venom spewed toward Hank Aaron was immense. The worst things you can imagine being said to someone were said to Hank Aaron. There are many letters written to Hank Aaron during his pursuit of baseball’s most cherished record on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame as a reminder to people of what evil truly looks like. Yet, Hank Aaron rose above it all and not only continued to play, but he played the game better than anyone else. Hank Aaron was the epitome of grace under pressure. I never got to meet Hank Aaron, but I felt like I knew him. He was that kind of person. He would hop on Braves broadcasts and I was always struck by how humble and jolly he was at all times. This is a man who had EVERY right to be bitter about how he was treated. He would have been completely justified in holding a grudge. Yet, he was always so gracious with his time and I would always shake my head in awe every time I heard him speak. He was an inspiration for so many that came after him and he was an inspiration to me on how to overcome adversity. He would later become a staple in the Atlanta community, and I have always been so proud that he represented the city I now call home.

As you may have guessed by now, I grew up loving the Atlanta Braves and have passed that gene down to my two sons (ages 7 and 10). My sons know all about Hank Aaron’s many incredible feats on the baseball field, but I made sure they know about his life also. When I asked one of my sons the one person they would want a picture of in their room — without skipping a beat — he said Hank Aaron. It was a proud dad moment knowing Hank’s legacy would endure long after we are all gone.

Chester Higgins
Written by Mike Ryder, Partner

When I was a kid, my dad was a professor and took us to Tuskegee Alabama where he taught for a year. One of his students was Chester Higgins and he became good friends with Chester who would come by our apartment from time to time. Chester‘s passion was photography and even though he was in a business class that my father taught, my father mentored him on following his passion.

Fast forward and Chester Higgins took his passion for photography to New York where he became a photographer for the New York Times, as well as numerous other publications. He published a number of books and had his works displayed throughout the country. He gave my dad the first book he published, Black Woman, in 1970. I still see current photographs in the New York Times with his byline as the photographer 50 years after he started there!

Not too long ago, I stumbled across his name and reached out to him and we talked for some time. He later was in Atlanta and reached out to me because he had just done the photography for a new book on ancient Nubia. He was speaking at the Carlos Museum at Emory. It was great to see him after over 50 years and he was/is amazing.

Chester Higgins has devoted his life to capturing the black experience from his initial works all the way up to the present. His book, Echo of the Spirit: A Photographer’s Journey, reflects his unique experience of growing up in the segregated rural Alabama and making a career for himself in New York. If you look at his work, you can’t help but be moved from his ability to capture the true essence.

You can read more about him on his website here.

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