Sometimes when you meet people, you just know they are someone special. It may be the tone of the voice, the slight move of the hand, or just their presence in a room. Billye Jewel Suber Aaron is just such a person. She is more than a history maker, she is living history. Born in the rural community of Mound Prairie, Texas, Billye attended Clemons High School in Neches and graduated from Lincoln High School in Dallas, Texas. It was in high school that the light in her eyes shown big and bright and called her to the broadcast world where, as a teenager, she wrote script for her high school showcase and narrated the program on television.
Her commitment to higher education began in 1958 when she received her BA in English from Texas College in Tyler, Texas. She was headed to San Francisco State University to be with her sister when her college advisor turned her toward Atlanta University (AU). Arriving in Atlanta with a Lilly Foundation Grant and a $49 per month stipend in her hand, she was ready to give the world her point of view and set a new course in history. At AU, Billye became a teacher’s assistant and worked at Morris Brown College. She continued in her search for more knowledge and received a Masters of Arts degree in English & Reading from AU. Determined to learn more, she later found time to do post graduate studies at the University of California in Berkley.
During her graduate study days, surrounded by education and educators, she met and married Dr. Samuel W. Williams, a Morehouse College professor of philosophy and religion, the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta and a distinguished civil rights leader who also served as the president of the local chapter of the NAACP. Dr. Williams was a mover and a shaker in Atlanta’s community and Billye was immersed in the world of community activism. Dr. Williams served as the first African American chairperson of Atlanta’s Community Relations Commission, appointed by Mayor Ivan Allan, and Billye was the “first lady” of Black Atlanta in many ways. She was widowed in 1970.
Turning to her love for education and sharing knowledge, Billye embarked in a teaching career in 1960 and worked at Spelman College, Morehouse College, and South Carolina State College. She later taught at Turner High School and was an Assistant Professor of Reading at Morris Brown College.
I have met no other woman whom I feel is the epitome of what a lady is supposed to be, more so than Billye Aaron. She embodies strength and fortitude; guts and courage; loyalty and perseverance; distinction and beauty; and I like her. Most of all, she has the unique ability that we hear others talk about — walking with kings and queens and not losing the common touch. The difference is that Billye Aaron has actually done it.
In July of 1968, Mrs. Aaron made her television debut on WSB-TV’s Today in Georgia, becoming the first African American woman in the southeast to co-host a daily regularly scheduled talk show. In this capacity, she worked alongside veteran lead host, Ruth Kent, from 1968 to 1974, interviewing local, national and international celebrities and dignitaries. Such luminaries as Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Prime Minister Linden O. Pindling of the Bahamas; actors Sidney Portier, Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, Pearl Bailey; and baseball greats Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron were among her guests.
In 1973, she married the reigning baseball home run king, Henry “Hank” Aaron. In 1975, she transferred to WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee hosting her own weekly talk show called “Billye.” However, the red clay of Georgia kept calling and Hank and Billye returned to Atlanta where Billye found a dream assignment. It was like she was ordained to work for the United Negro College Fund; and Billye took to this task like a “duck to the water.” For 14 years, she was one of the United Negro College Fund’s premiere fundraisers, retiring in 1994 as vice president of the Southern region. She founded and nurtured the Mayor’s MASKED Ball (Mankind Assisting Students Kindle Educational Dreams). The MASKED Ball has become one of UNCF’s longest running and highest grossing special events.
She has been a member of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Board (founded by Thurgood Marshall) for more than 25 years. A lifetime member of the NAACP, her involvement with the Atlanta branch dates back to the early 1960s. For five consecutive years, Mrs. Aaron served as chair of the Atlanta NAACP premiere fundraiser, the Freedom Fund Dinner.
The legacy of Billye Suber Aaron should be recognized by the thousands of young Black students whom she has helped to get an education during the more than 35 years which she has devoted to being an advocate for higher education for African-American students.
While serving on several boards throughout Atlanta, Billye has received so many awards that we cannot publish them all; however, a few special ones include the Hyatt Regency Atlanta Hotels 2013 Crystal Customer Award; eight Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters; Atlanta Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith Abe Goldstein Human Relations Award; the Atlanta Urban League’s 1998 Distinguished Community Service Award; SCLC 7th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Drum Major for Justice Award; and she and Hank Aaron received the 2003 Martin Luther King Jr. “Salute to Greatness” Award.
Billye Aaron is a proud member of Young Women Christian Association; The Dogwood City Chapter of The Links, Inc.; The Inquirer’s Literary Club; Leadership Atlanta, Class of 1985; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; Board of Sponsors, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra League; to name only a few.
Over the years Mrs. Aaron has been a passionate advocate of black higher education as evidenced by her many years as a teacher, an employee and now a volunteer for the United Negro College Fund. Her passion for helping young people continues through her volunteer work at UNCF and the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation which she and her husband, Hank, founded in 1994. This philanthropic trust makes grants to children between the ages of 9 and 12 to assist them in developing their talents and chasing their dreams. To date, they have made well over 755 grants (their initial goal) which reflected the total number of homeruns her husband hit. Additionally, the foundation has given twenty-eight, $104,000 scholarships mainly to historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College displays a beautiful portrait of Mrs. Billye Suber Aaron which pays tribute to her as an educator, ground-breaking broadcaster, fundraiser, philanthropist and community builder. In addition, the Morehouse School of Medicine has broken ground for the Billye Suber Aaron Pavilion which will soon be a monument to her dedication and affection for this institution.
Mrs. Aaron has one daughter, Diedra Cecile Haydel, and two grandchildren—Emily Jewel and Victor Aaron Haydel. Billye Aaron and her husband, Hank Aaron, were making history before they met; and since they met, the history books are replete with their accomplishments which keep coming like Hank’s home runs – with Billye already on first base.