Archie Williams: Olympic champion and Air Force colonel

Berkeley Engineering 150Archie Williams at the 1936 Summer OlympicsArchie Williams at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.Many Cal athletes have embraced the Olympic philosophy of balancing body, will and mind, and Archie Williams (B.S.’39 ME) was no exception. Born and raised in Oakland, Williams came to UC Berkeley in 1935 to study mechanical engineering and run track. At the NCAA track and field championships in 1936, he set a new world record for the 400-meter race with a time of 46.1 seconds. He went on to compete in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, winning a gold medal in the 400-meter race.

After a welcome back to campus that included a noon rally on the steps of Wheeler Hall, Williams continued with his engineering studies and became the first African-American to run for the university’s student council. In a 1992 oral history, Williams described how he developed a determination to enroll at UC Berkeley: “I could stand on the front porch [of my grandfather’s house], look right up Telegraph and look at the Campanile as a kid.…I saw that Campanile and I wanted to go to that…school.”

After graduation, Williams earned his pilot’s license and was hired as a civilian flying instructor at the famed Tuskegee Army Flying School. He eventually enlisted in the Air Force — working as an instructor, weather officer and pilot — flying missions during World War II and the Korean War. After his retirement at the rank of lieutenant colonel, Williams taught high school math and computer science for more than 20 years, and he continued to fly airplanes for the rest his life.

To learn more:

The Joy of Flying: Olympic Gold, Air Force Colonel and Teacher (UC Oral History)

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