Television: Too Black, Too Strong

A Ken Burns documentary reveals a champ whose individualism ignited his rise--and his downfall

Racial supremacists hold two contradictory beliefs: 1) that one race is mentally and physically superior to another and 2) that at all costs the disdained race must never get a chance to prove that first belief wrong. In 1908, Jack Johnson shattered the racists' worldview with his two gloved fists when, after years chasing a title shot, he pummeled Tommy Burns to become the first black heavyweight champion of the world.

Ken Burns' two-part PBS documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (debuts Jan. 17; check local listings) rediscovers the story of an athlete who not only broke...

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