Robert Carl Cohen

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Black Crusader

A Biography of
Robert Franklin Williams

Black Crusader is the story of how a young man from a small North Carolina town who dreamed of becoming a poet was transformed into an archenemy of the US power structure. At school and in college, in the US Army and Marines and in his home town in the 1950s, Robert Franklin Williams witnessed the scourge of segregation, exploitation, beatings and even murder.

He soon decided to apply his combat training, intelligence, organizational skills and fearlessness to take a stand against the race hatred he saw around him. Williams became the first black liberation militant to advocate armed self-defense. But in 1961 an explosion of government-supported racist violence – and a trumped-up kidnapping charge – forced him to flee the country and seek refuge and support among America’s Cold War adversaries, in Cuba, the People’s Republic of China and finally in newly independent Tanzania.

Included in these pages are historic events such as Williams’ talks with Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong, details of the infighting in the Cuban Communist Party, his meeting with Che Guevara, and his impressions of life in China during the first years of the Cultural Revolution.

This biography is based on five weeks of interviews by filmmaker and author Robert Carl Cohen conducted in Dar-es-Salaam in the tumultuous summer of 1968. Detailing the first 44 years of Williams’ life, as told in his own words, it is the story of an enigmatic and charismatic natural-born leader who was pursued in vain for almost a decade by the FBI and CIA.

Williams’ talent for leadership extended to book writing, newspaper editing and managing Radio Free Dixie from exile. Though his message was totally suppressed by the US mainstream media, he was a friend of revolutionary leaders, inspired a generation of civil rights activists in the US, and was admired by millions around the world.

Black Crusader concludes with the bizarre circumstances of Williams’ return to the US in 1969, after which all state and federal charges against him were quietly dropped without explanation. This was followed by the mysterious suppression by mainstream publishers of the first two versions of this book, now republished in full in this new illustrated edition.

Robert Carl Cohen

Robert Carl Cohen has a professional career spanning almost 60 years as a filmmaker, foreign correspondent, public lecturer and author. Born in Philadelphia in 1930, he moved with his parents to Los Angeles in 1939, earning his BA in Art and MA in Motion Pictures at UCLA.

His master’s thesis film, a 10-minute documentary depicting the genetic-environmental basis for human skin color differences, later became the basis for his first book, The Color of Man. Published by Random House in 1971 and Bantam in 1973, it was adopted as a text by the California State Department of Education. It remains the only popular science book on the subject.

As a US Army conscript, Bob served as a cameraman at Ft. Monmouth NJ and at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe near Paris. After military service he studied for a Doctorate in Social Psychology at the Sorbonne. While an observer at the Sixth World Youth Festival in Moscow in 1957, he was hired by NBC-TV to accompany and film a group of young Americans visiting China in defiance of the State Department’s travel ban.

Returning home, he began a series of public film-lectures about China, and then produced Inside Red China, a nationally syndicated TV special for which he received a letter of commendation from the office of Under Secretary of State Chester Bowles in 1961.

In addition to being the first US journalist to film in China, the popularity of his film lectures led to his being the first American permitted by East German authorities to film there in 1959. And in 1963-64 he became the first American to receive both US State Department and Cuban Foreign Ministry authorization to film in Cuba.

Back in Los Angeles in 1967, he produced Mondo Hollywood, a two-hour color documentary, banned by the French Government in 1968 as “a danger to mental health.” Having become a psychedelic cult classic a half-century after it was made, Mondo Hollywood was honored by a special screening as part of the American Film Institute’s 2014 Festival.

The father of daughters Dianna and Julia, he and his wife Kim have lived in Boulder, Colorado since 1993, where he continues to write, give public lectures and produce documentaries. His videos are viewable at and also at Snagfilms, Hulu-Plus, YouTube and Amazon.

Video interview of Robert Franklin Williams, advocate of armed self-defense in the Civil Rights Movement, hunted by the FBI since fleeing Monroe, North Carolina in 1961, after years in exile in Cuba and China, is interviewed by Robert Carl Cohen in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in 1968.

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American Film Institute honors Bob Cohen’s Mondo Hollywood

Black Crusader author discusses his cult classic 1967 psychedelic documentary with Paul Thomas Anderson, director of Inherent Vice

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TitleBlack Crusader: A Biography of Robert Franklin Williams
SizeTrade paperback, 6 x 9 in (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
List Prices$22.50; UK £16.25; EU €22.20
PublishedFebruary 4, 2015 (3rd edition)
FeaturesColor photos and illustrations
BISACBlack History, Civil Rights