Few boxing rivalries are as legendary as the one between Joe Louis, an African-American boxer, and Max Schmeling, a German fighter who was a favorite of Hitler’s (although Schmeling personally had no love for the Nazi regime). The two men were promoted as bitter rivals, but the truth is that the two later became close friends. Schmeling even helped pay for Louis’ funeral in 1981. Very different from one another, they shared a friendship that went beyond the bounds of sameness.
Watch a video of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, and you’ll be struck by the charm and grace with which they performed. It’s easy to assume that the four musicians were simply born with the skills they displayed. But in his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that what made the Beatles a hit with fans was lots of hard work. Before that celebrated performance, the band had done nearly 1,200 shows—practice that prepared them for greatness.
When World War II began, thousands of African-Americans volunteered to fight for the United States. But discrimination was in full force. Black soldiers were at times placed in more dangerous jobs than white soldiers. Black troops were denied entry into army specialist schools. They were served lower-quality food and forced to ride separate military buses.
But on December 26, 1944,…