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 ¬ónobody 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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