Show Business: Viewpoints: High-Stepping History

Conceived by white men in the mid-1800s, minstrel shows evolved a format as rigid as a TV sitcom: performers, usually white, put on blackface makeup and offered up cakewalks, "coon songs" and darky-dialect jokes. Blackface survived until Al Jolson's mammy routines in the early 1900s, as proof that nobody found them offensive —nobody except black entertainers whose talents were suffocated by parody and caricature. Minstrel Man (CBS, Wednesday, March 2, 9 p.m. E.S.T.) provides a rare view of minstrelsy through the eyes of those victims.

Set in the 1890s, the story focuses on Harry Brown Jr., a black hoofer played with high-stepping...

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