Recognizing the life and achievements of Archie Williams – Marin Independent Journal


At the Berlin Olympics, Archie Williams and his African-American teammates were popular. He recalled that his German competitors and the people of Berlin were friendly with the black athletes, stopping them on the streets for autographs and even inviting them to their homes to meet their families.

Williams knew his fiercest competitor was Briton Godfrey Brown. When the starter pistol snapped, Williams was at the back of the pack. But as he had been doing all year, he started to crush his rivals until he was in the lead before the last corner, and summoned a little extra just before the finish line to win the gold medal.

The 1936 Olympics became famous for Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe, and many black athletes who won gold and ended Adolf Hitler’s bragging about the German “masters race”. After the Olympics, Williams and other athletes took a month-long track and field tour to neighboring countries. During a race in Sweden, Williams suffered a hamstring injury, which kept him out of subsequent races and ultimately ended his racing career.

Back in the Bay Area, Williams was honored with a parade in Oakland and a large reception on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. Asked about the treatment he received at the Olympics, Williams said: “Well, over there at least we didn’t have to get in the back of the bus.”

He returned to Cal and graduated as a mechanical engineer in 1939, then obtained his pilot’s license. With this training, Williams headed south to Tuskegee, Alabama, to teach civilian students how to fly. While there, he recalled Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit and the use of her influence to set up a military training program for the pilots who would eventually become the famous Tuskegee Airmen.

At the start of World War II, Williams enlisted in the US Army Air Corps and attended the University of California, Los Angeles for meteorological training. He returned to Tuskegee as a second lieutenant, where he taught meteorology and flight initiation to the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron. Williams then obtained another degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and served in the Air Weather Service for the next 20 years, including a period of service during the Korean War.

Before retiring from military service in 1964 as a lieutenant colonel, Williams attended the University of California, Riverside, for his teaching degree. With encouragement from a former Cal teammate who was superintendent of Marin’s public schools, Williams was hired to teach math at the former Sir Francis Drake High School. He also coached athletics and eventually computer science.

Williams retired in 1987 after more than 20 years in the classroom and passed away in 1993. He is remembered as a dedicated and caring teacher whose class was open from 7:30 am to 5 pm so that ” he can teach, teach, counsel and help students reach their full potential. Although his life was filled with great personal achievements, it was his teaching that was most important to Williams. With the school’s recent name change to Archie Williams High School, the community has honored the legacy of a true American and Bay Area hero.

History Watch is written by Scott Fletcher, volunteer at the Marin History Museum, Images included in History Watch are available for purchase by calling 415-382-1182 or emailing [email protected]

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