Duke faculty members recall Hank Aaron’s impact on campus youth summer program

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Hank Aaron wore plenty of hats throughout his life. 

He was “Hammerin’ Hank.” He was an icon. He was member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a civil rights activist and philanthropist. 

Aaron was a home run king who dealt with intense racism. 

“I think he had remarkable courage,” said William Darity, director and distinguished professor of public policy at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity. “Because he was willing to speak out in a very forceful way about a number of issues that were very pertinent in improving the conditions in the Black community.”

Aaron died Friday at the age of 86. 

“He was an extraordinary human being. We got a chance to spend some time with Mr. Aaron and his wonderful wife,” said Gwendolyn Wright, director of strategic initiatives and collaborations at the Cook Center. 

Both Darity and Wright said it made sense to name the Cook Center’s Young Scholars Summer Research Institute after Aaron and his wife, Billye Suber Aaron, in 2018 to honor their support of the program. 

“But also, all of the tremendous work that they’ve done in higher education and with students in general,” Wright explained. 

The program is a free three-week summer social science experience for Durham Public School students. 

It’s aimed at helping spark interest in researching economic, social and political inequality.   

“He was very generous in terms of spending time and talking with them. They knew who he was. I think there was no question,” Darity said. 

Aaron was good friends with Samuel DuBois Cook, the namesake of the Cook Center and the first Black faculty member at Duke. 

Aaron also made several trips to Duke’s campus over the years. 

“The world has lost someone that can never be replaced,” Wright said. 

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