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Archie Williams: The Black Bay Area Gold Medalist, Pilot and Teacher Who Fought Racism Abroad and at Home

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After winning the gold medal in the 400-meter race in the Berlin Olympics in 1936, Oakland-born Archie Williams was honored with a parade.

But when he graduated from UC Berkeley with a mechanical engineering degree in 1939, he couldn't get hired in his chosen field because he was Black. So he dug ditches for the East Bay Municipal Utility District.

The life story of Archie Williams is filled with highs and lows and, most of all, perseverance.

He went on to learn to fly, helped teach the Tuskegee Airmen to fly during World War II and had a career as an Air Force meteorologist.

Williams died in 1993. Just last year, San Anselmo's Sir Francis Drake High School was renamed Archie Williams High School in honor of the man who was a beloved math and computer science teacher at the school for over 20 years.

Once you learn about Williams's incredible life, then the life of a 14th-century human trafficker from England — whose name the school used to bear — doesn't seem so worthy of honor, even if he did sail around the world.

(For an even more detailed account of Archie Williams's life, I highly recommend reading this oral history from UC Berkeley's "Black Alumni Series.")

Cartoon: shows Archie Williams wearing his Olympic gold medal. He got a degree from UC Berkeley in engineering, ran track and went on to win a gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Cartoon: Archie Williams with Nazi flags and crowds in the background. Williams says, "I was aware of their super race, whatever, 'Aryan Supremacy,' but they didn't prove it to us!"

Cartoon: Williams faced discrimination back in the U.S. Cartoon shows him digging a ditch for East Bay Municipal Utility District since no one would hire a black man for his engineering degree.

Cartoon: a plane soars over clouds, Archie Williams pictured below in a flight helmet with goggles. Williams learned to fly at the Oakland Airport and went on to help teach Tuskegee Airmen how to fly.

Cartoon: an older Williams writes on a weather map. Text: After a career as an Air Force meteorologist... he became a much-loved math and computer science teacher in Marin & coached track & field at what is now called "Archie Williams High School."


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