Atlanta shines as Civil Rights Game host
Next year's event to also take place in historic city
ATLANTA -- When it came time to vie for hosting the fifth annual Civil Rights Game, Braves president John Schuerholz recalls sharing a very simple, yet very direct message with Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball development, and his group.
"I said to them there's no better place, more appropriate place, than the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, Atlanta, Ga., to host the Civil Rights Game," Schuerholz said. "And so I told them, 'Once we get these games, I'm not so sure you're going to want to take them anywhere else.'"
Well, it eventually will be taken somewhere else.
But as part of a two-year agreement, Schuerholz can be certain it will be back in Atlanta for 2012.
The Braves' 3-2 victory over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon was the culmination of a Civil Rights Game weekend that included a roundtable discussion tabling key social issues, a Youth Summit that gave local kids a chance to interact with ex-Major Leaguers, a Saturday game that paid homage to the Negro Leagues, a Beacon Awards Banquet and a Delta Civil Rights Game that brought it all together.
"The Civil Rights Game has become another jewel event for us," said Solomon. "The Braves have been great, the city has been great, so I'm very excited about this. To see the fans come out, the celebrities we had ... tremendous."
Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, Grammy Award-winning guitarist Carlos Santana and Hall of Fame player Ernie Banks were a key part of the weekend's festivities as Beacon Award winners. Hank Aaron, the Braves legend who received tributes during the Beacon Awards Banquet and the pregame ceremonies to the Civil Rights Game, was also a large part of the weekend, as was iconic rapper Ludacris, who performed the postgame concert on Saturday.
Sprinkled in were some notable former players, including Frank Robinson, Earl Williams and Bobby Bonilla. Several key social activists -- like Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young -- also made their presence felt.
The Civil Rights Game -- which celebrates those who fought for civil rights on and off the field -- began as exhibition games in Memphis from 2007-08, then moved to Cincinnati as part of the regular-season schedule for the next two years before heading south.
Solomon, who regrettably cancelled a couple of events leading up to the fifth Civil Rights Game, believes the second year in Atlanta will be even better than the first.
"It's always tough the first year in the city ... always tough," Solomon said. "But this city has tremendous potential, and I think that next year's [event] will be far beyond this one by leaps and bounds. Once people start understanding what the Civil Rights Game is all about and they start seeing what we're trying to do here ... I think that we'll have tremendous support next year, and I think it will be even bigger than it was this year."
Solomon stated that several other cities are lining up to host future Civil Rights Games.
Although Schuerholz and Aaron want the Civil Rights Game to remain a permanent fixture in Atlanta, and MLB recognizes the city's significance during the civil rights movement, Solomon noted that "there are many civil rights stories all across the country, and we would be remiss if we didn't explore all of those."
Aaron is just glad he'll have one more season to honor those who paved the way at his adopted hometown.
"If Jackie Robinson had failed, not only on the field [but] even off the field, you wouldn't have gotten a chance to see great players like Willie Mays -- who just celebrated his 80th birthday -- Ernie Banks or maybe myself or somebody else. I think it would've set baseball back at least 10 years or 15 years," Aaron said in the TBS broadcast booth on Sunday. "... This was a tremendous moment, especially what Jackie Robinson had to go through, not only on the field, but he had to carry himself so marvelous off the field."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.