Civil Rights Game to feature Braves, Phillies
Game at Turner Field to culminate four-day annual event
ATLANTA -- Long before he became the first African-American to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young heard what he describes as "a good ol' boy from south Georgia" tell some of Atlanta's other political and corporate leaders that in order to truly become big league, the city would have to ensure that equal housing opportunities were provided to each of the Braves' African-American players in 1966.
Forty-five years later, Atlanta stands as a big league city and a product of the celebrated dream that Young's friend Martin Luther King Jr. held dear, as he established himself as one of the greatest civil rights leaders the world has ever known.
Major League Baseball proudly announced last summer that it would be bringing the 2011 and '12 Civil Rights Game and its festivities to King's hometown of Atlanta. MLB spiced up the event on Thursday, when it revealed the four days of festivities will be highlighted by a May 15 series finale between the Braves and the Phillies at Turner Field.
"Any time we play the Phillies, there is a lot of excitement," Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann said. "With all of the other stuff that will be going on, I think it will be a great way to end what should be a great event."
For the first time in its five years of existence, the Civil Rights Game -- previously played in Memphis, Tenn., and Cincinnati -- will be aired on national television.
Major League Baseball vice president of baseball development Jimmie Lee Solomon said that he was pleased to enrich this year's game with the Phillies, who possess a pair of African-American stars (Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins), Hawaii native Shane Victorino and popular Latin American stars Raul Ibanez and Carlos Ruiz.
"We think [the Phillies are] very representative of what we're trying to do," Solomon said. "I think it kind of speaks to the kind of team, the kind of diversity, the kind of cultural inclusion that we're talking about in baseball. I think that would be an appropriate opponent for the Braves in this setting."
Like when they arrived in Atlanta from Milwaukee with Hank Aaron in the latter portion of the 1960s, the Braves once again find one of their most recognizable players to be African-American, one who is also recognized as one of the game's brightest young stars.
Once 21-year-old Braves outfielder Jason Heyward learned that this year's event would be staged in his hometown of Atlanta, he expressed pride and excitement about the opportunity to participate in an event that could enrich both children and adults.
"This means a lot to me," Heyward said. "Atlanta can offer a lot to an event like this."
When it was revealed that Atlanta would serve as the host for the next two Civil Rights Games, Aaron was among the many who described Atlanta as the perfect place to stage the event -- designed by MLB to pay tribute to all of those who fought on and off the field for equal rights for all Americans.
"When you look at it, this is where the game ought to be," Aaron said. "I'm not trying to take anything away from anybody else. But when you talk about Dr. King and the King Center, you talk about Andrew Young and Dr. [Joseph] Lowery, you talk about all the civil rights beacons who are here, and this is certainly where the game should be."
This year's CRG events will begin on May 12, with the beginning of the fee-based, two-day Selig Business Conference, a job fair that will serve as a platform for supplier diversity and workforce networking. That evening, the historic Fox Theatre will host the screening of "Chasing the Dream: A Red Carpet Tribute to Hank Aaron," which chronicles the Hall of Famer's life and career.
Aaron is scheduled to attend and speak during the event. Proceeds will be provided to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C.
A roundtable discussion will be staged on May 13 at the same Ebeneezer Baptist Church that King called his own. Moderator Charles Ogletree will lead the discussion, which will center around the pivotal role baseball played in the civil rights movement and the game's continued presence as a social institution in American society.
Children will have an opportunity to interact with Major League players and personalities during the Civil Rights Game Youth Summit/Wanna Play? Event, which will be held from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. ET on May 14.
MLB will present this year's Beacon Awards during a ceremony that will be staged at the Omni Grand Ballroom from 7:30-11 p.m. ET on May 14. Each award recognizes individuals whose lives are emblematic of the spirit of the civil rights movement.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.