WASHINGTON (AP) — At a hotel overlooking the White House, Attorney General Eric Holder motioned toward a window and paid Hank Aaron a huge compliment.
"The young man who lives right over there," Holder said Friday night, speaking of President Barack Obama, "his path was made easier by this man."
Forty years ago, Aaron broke the hallowed record of Babe Ruth on his way to 755 career home runs, all while combating racism with quiet dignity.
On Friday evening at a private party celebrating his 80th birthday, friends, former teammates, and baseball luminaries paid tribute to "Hammerin' Hank."
Slugger Reggie Jackson compared Aaron to Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. Frank Robinson spoke of the thrill of entering the Hall of Fame with Aaron in 1982.
Former teammate Robin Yount said he was his mother's second-favorite player — right behind Aaron.
Aaron was last to speak and grew emotional as he talked of his parents, recalling an afternoon when he and his brother were called into the house and ordered to hide under beds. Minutes later, members of the Ku Klux Klan marched up their street.
"I don't know what that could have done to me growing up," Aaron said. "But my mother — she was uneducated and father, too — but they always taught me and all of my siblings that the thing I want you to remember is, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' That's been my philosophy."
As the ceremony came to a close at the Hay-Adams hotel, Aaron and his wife of 40 years, Billie, beamed as the crowd sang "Happy Birthday."
Aaron turned 80 on Wednesday. His tribute will continue on Saturday when he speaks as part of the Living Portrait Series at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.