Update: The Board of Trustees approved the name Archie Williams High School Tuesday night (May 11). It will replace the name of Drake High School.
After an embarrassingly strange trip, bringing frustration and ridicule from alumni and the community, the re-naming committee searching for a new name for Drake High School may have found it: Archie Williams High School.
Williams, a beloved teacher at Drake, taught math for 21 years. He won a Gold Medal in the 1936 Olympics. The selection was praised on social media with one former student saying: “Finally, someone has made some sense out of this saga.”
The family of Williams fully endorsed the idea, releasing this statement: “Archie brings unity, integrity, hard work, passion, vibrancy, positivity, and love for others, more than you love yourself.”
The school Trustees will make the final decision, which may come as early this week.
A re-naming committee began work on a new name for Drake about a year ago in the aftermath of the racially charged George Floyd case in Minneapolis. The school administration had already removed the Drake name from the school, saying they feared the name would be vandalized. Drake’s name had to go, they said, because he once worked on a slave trading voyage and was therefore unworthy of the school’s name.
That claim, which historians warned was not an intellectually honest portrayal of Drake, brought criticism to the school administrators for creating chaos by jumping the gun on the name change. Drake was one of the world’s most celebrated explorers and, in later life, an advocate against slavery. On one of his journeys he spent time in West Marin and was known to be kind to the Miwok, the indigenous population at the time.
Critics called what happened next an unnecessary spectacle in which the renaming committee floated scores of potential names and pitted the names against each other in a game show-like process. In that process, the renaming committee rejected early-on the Archie Williams name in lieu of Olema High School. Olema is a Miwok word, which the administration-steered committee seemed to lean toward from the start.
Then the strange trip turned stranger. Miwok elders sent a letter to the school saying they no longer wanted to be involved in the controversial process. The word “Olema” should not be appropriated by the predominantly rich, white school.
That brought more criticism and an appearance by administrators before the Board of Trustees to explain what happened. The Trustees themselves were split on how to proceed, but in the end told the administration to return to work and bring back a name.
The committee then advanced the name Archie Williams High School.
Williams was a popular teacher at Drake. Running for UC Berkeley at the NCAA track and field championships in 1936, Williams set a new world record for the 400-meter race. He went on that year to win the Gold Medal in the 400-meter run in the Olympic Games, which were hosted by Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany in Berlin.
“When I came home,” he said, “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.”
He was also one of the first Black pilots in World War II.
He taught math at Drake for 21 years and lived in Fairfax. He died in 1993 at the age of 78.
One former student said on social media that “he was the best teacher I had. Treated everyone awesome and did so much for the school.”