Martin Luther King Jr. teaches his son, Marty, how to hold a baseball bat in the backyard of their Atlanta home (that’s daughter Yolanda on the right), November 1964.
A longtime admirer of Jackie Robinson, Dr. King had many connections to the baseball world. In fact, it was King who helped convince Jackie to ignore detractors and take a more vocal role in the civil rights movement (they often appeared together at public events). King once said of Robinson: “[B]ack in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable, he underwent the trauma and the humiliation and the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim walking the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before the sit-ins, a freedom rider before the Freedom Rides.” (Jackie disagreed with King on some issues, especially the Vietnam War; however, Robinson—who called King “one of the most magnificent leaders the world has today”—devoted an entire chapter of his 1972 autobiography to MLK’s influence.)
Hank Aaron, who met King on several occasions, discussed the civil rights icon during a 2017 interview: “He was the type of guy who commanded attention . . . because of what he stood for and what he said and the things that he did.” On another occasion, Aaron said, “My appreciation is that the country is starting to understand the significance of what he [King] did and what he stood for when he was here.”
Another baseball-related story involves Don Newcombe, who had dinner with King two weeks before his 1968 assassination. An appreciative King told Newk, “You’ll never know how easy you and Jackie and [Larry] Doby and Campy [Roy Campanella] made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field.” An incredulous Newcombe later declared: “Imagine, here is Martin getting beaten with billy clubs, bitten by dogs and thrown in jail, and he says we made his job easier!”
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.