Jack Johnson, arguably one of the best heavyweight boxers to ever enter the sport, is about to have his story told on the small screen for the second time. The same man—Ken Burns—will be at the helm of both films. Tom Hanks’ Playtone Productions production company will be joining Burns for the effort.

Burns’ first film, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, was based on Geoffrey C. Ward’s book of the same name. (It also won the Anisfield-Wolf award in 2005.) In it, they profiled Johnson’s undeniable talent amidst the background of a society permeated by racism. Not many details are known yet about this new project, but it will be based on Ward’s book as well, and broken up into a four- or six-part miniseries on HBO.

What would you like for the filmmakers to focus on in this new effort?

2005 winner Geoffrey C. Ward‘s latest book covers familiar ground—history—but also gives readers insight into his family history. The book is titled, A Disposition to be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor’s Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States (quite a mouthful!). The focus of the story is on the life of Ferdinand Ward, Geoffrey’s great-grandfather—the Bernie Madoff of the late 19th century. 

The New York Times writes

Geoffrey Ward cuts his great-grandfather no slack. He describes a whiny, bullying, self-pitying narcissist who, once caught, didn’t even try to justify his behavior. The best things to be said about Ferd Ward are that he was reckless and ruthless enough to be worth reading about. And that when he tried to kidnap Clarence Ward, Geoffrey’s grandfather, he at least had some kind of reason. Clarence’s mother, Ella, had died; Ferd wanted access to her estate even if he had to steal his terrified boy in the process. Yet, somehow, “A Disposition to Be Rich” is written without malice.

Impressive.

Tell us – will you check out Ward’s latest work? Do you think you could have written a book that airs out the family’s dirty laundry? 

In Geoffrey C. Ward’s Unforgivable Blackness: Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, we are treated to a front row seat to the racism and prejudice that tormented the man who was one of the best boxers the sport has ever known.

We honored Ward with the 2005 award for nonfiction for his gripping account of what happens when your talent is outshadowed by the color of your skin and the times you live in. In 2005, Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward teamed up to produce a documentary on Johnson’s life, which can be seen in its entirety below. Click here for a synopsis.

Part 1

Part 2

Black History Month is but one period out of the year where we focus on the accomplishments and contributions of those of the African Diaspora. We believe that the world is a richer place when we celebrate our rich cultural diversity, as evidenced by our dedication to selecting books that contribute to the dialogue. It’s hard for us to select our favorite books out of the Anisfield-Wolf library, so instead we will choose books that give great insight into the triumphs and challenges of African Americans. Share this list with your colleagues, friends, children and neighbors. 

Taylor Branch (2007 winner)

Parting the Waters: America In The King Years, 1954-63
Pillar of Fire: America In The King Years, 1963-65
At Canaan’s Edge: America In The King Years, 1965-68

Isabel Wilkerson (2011 winner)

The Warmth of Other Suns

Annette Gordon-Reed (2009 winner) 

The Hemingses of Monticello

Geoffrey C. Ward (2005 winner) 

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

David Levering Lewis (2001 winner) 

W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963

Arnold Rampersad (1987 winner) 

The Life of Langston Hughes

Tell us – which of these books have you already read? Which would you recommend?