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Yusef Crowder 

Owning the Wood Is Wonderful Gallery in southwest Atlanta marks the latest chapter in Yusef Crowder's multifaceted life. In the early 1960s, as a high school student in Monroe, N.C., Crowder was a member of the Black Armed Guard of Robert F. Williams, an African-American activist who was a major influence on the Black Power movement. Crowder's other professions include being a drummer and dancer in New England, and a woodcarver and sculptor in Africa. But the new documentary Negroes with Guns, airing Tues., Feb. 7, 10 p.m., on PBS, puts the spotlight back on his involvement in an oft-overlooked period of the Civil Rights era.

How did you get involved with Robert F. Williams?

We lived on the same block, so we grew up together, and we'd go hunting in the woods with our .22 rifles. Rob joined the Marines, and around the same time he came back, things started getting bad in town. The Klan would ride through the black neighborhood shooting guns, so we had to defend ourselves. I supported myself with a paper route and odd jobs, but I was also a member of the Monroe Youth Action Committee and used to help with Rob's newsletter, The Crusader, typing the stencils and running the mimeograph.

Were there arguments concerning Williams' policy of armed self-defense and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s belief in nonviolent resistance?

Our position was that we weren't violent; we were just protecting our community. We were nonviolent when our oppressors were nonviolent. If we heard that a Klan motorcade was going to come through, everybody knew to meet and come armed -- sometimes there would be 100 or 200 of us. Sometimes we had to shoot our guns, but you never knew if you hit anybody because it was never reported. We never called ourselves "the Black Guard" -- if we had a name, I never heard it.

Why did you leave America, and what brought you back to Atlanta?

In 1976, I moved to Africa, not for political reasons but for cultural ones. I had a successful African dance company in New England, but I'd never been to Africa, so I wanted to see the thing that was making me prosperous. I lived there 13 years and learned sculpting and woodcarving. But my sister lived in Atlanta and contracted terminal cancer, so I moved back to be with her. I've been here ever since.

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