Archie Franklin Williams (May 1, 1915 - June 24, 1993) was an African American athlete who won the Gold Medal in the 400 meter race at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. He is also famous as one of only 14 African American pilots commissioned to the aviation meteorological cadet program during WWII. Additionally, Williams was a legendary teacher who loved to teach and help his students.
Williams was born in Oakland and attended Peralta Elementary School, Claremont Jr. High, and University High School in Oakland. After graduation he went on to San Mateo Junior College where Williams ran track & field, before transferring to UC Berkeley, where he majored in mechanical engineering.
At the 1936 NCAA championships, Williams set a world record in the 400 meters with a time of 46.1 in the preliminaries and won with a time of 47.0. Archie Williams followed that with his gold medal win at the Olympics. Williams later said that Adolf Hitler refused to shake hands with both himself and Jesse Owens. 2
"Archie F. Williams was one of the legendary African-American track stars whose decisive victories at the 1936 Berlin Olympics publicly demolished Hitler's propaganda of Aryan supremacy." 1
The first Civilian Pilot Training class in 1939 was conducted in Oakland and Williams, who had graduated from UC Berkeley, was one of the pilot trainees. He earned his pilot's license, followed by his instructor rating and became a civilian instructor at Tuskegee, Alabama.
After his commission into the aviation meteorological cadet program at UCLA, Williams graduated in 1943.
Following his military retirement Williams taught math and computers in various California high schools for 21 years. At the age of 72 Williams retired from Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California, and he died in Fairfax, California at the age of 78.
Archie Williams was the grandson of prominent African American civic and social leader Fannie Franklin Wall.
Wonderful quote attributed to Archie Williams “When I came home, somebody asked me, ‘How did those dirty Nazis treat you?’ I replied that I didn’t see any dirty Nazis, just a lot of nice German people. And I didn’t have to ride in the back of the bus over there.” 3
[ Although Wikipedia and af.mil both say this picture is Williams at the 1936 Olympics, I'm 95% sure this is at Edwards Track Stadium at UC Berkeley based on the shape of the stands and the fact the stands are empty. - Gene ]
Links & References
- Olympian becomes weather officer during World War II Air Force Print News Today
- Cal's Gold Medal Runner Archie Williams: Hitler Wouldn't Shake His Hand California Golden Bears Blog
- Hitler’s Games’ A High Time for Gold Medalist San Francisco Chronicle (June 12, 1984)