SAN ANSELMO (KPIX) — After months of controversy, a selection committee seeking to rename Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo has made their choice, voting unanimously to name the school for a former teacher, Archie Williams, whose life was extraordinary and inspiring.
Nine months ago they tore the name “Sir Francis Drake” off the administration building and painted over the scoreboard. The Drake Leadership Council considered 79 names but not the names of individual people in order to avoid future controversies.READ MORE: California Reopens: Downtown Walnut Creek Retailers, Restaurants In Dispute Over Future Of Parklets
But, at the school, the track had been named for someone and that fact bothered Ned Farnkopf, who graduated there in 1976.
“Every time I drive by here and they would re-memorialize something for somebody here, I’m thinking: Archie deserves something,” he said.
Most people have never heard of Archie Williams, even though he, like Jesse Owens, won a gold medal at the 1936 Olympic Games, much to the dismay of Adolph Hitler.
Later, Williams overcame the racism of Jim Crow to become a pilot and a key member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Archie’s son Carlos Williams, who lives in Sausalito, isn’t shy when talking about his soft-spoken father.
“Archie was the most interesting person ever to live in Marin County,” he said.
He said that, even though Archie was a living history book, he took the most pride in having taught at Drake High for 21 years, retiring at age 72.READ MORE: UPDATE: Suspect Arrested After 94-Year-Old Asian Woman Stabbed In San Francisco's Tenderloin Neighborhood
“That’s his greatest accomplishment,” said Carlos Williams. “Being a teacher at Drake High School and getting to those kids, because he was a Black man and they loved him back in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.”
For years, Farnkopf and others, including KPIX sports anchor Vern Glenn, have been waging a grassroots campaign to get Archie recognized on campus.
Some suggested an arch over the entrance to the track, where he served as an assistant coach. But no one imagined that one day the entire school might be named for him. His son Carlos thinks the selection committee may have felt that Archie’s legacy is so powerful that it may calm any renaming controversy.
“The board, the DLC council members, they had tears of joy because Archie stood for unity, integrity, hard work,” he said. “And just loving kids and planting the seeds.”
The selection is not official. The choice of Archie Williams was a unanimous recommendation of the committee but it must now be approved by the Tamalpais Union High School District.
Farnkopf, who started the campaign for recognition, is thrilled but he said that, if adopted, he wants to be sure that students who attend the school are taught not only the name but also the history of the man behind it.MORE NEWS: Heat Wave: Triple-Digit Temps, Full Reopening Brings Crowds To Concord Water Park
“Yeah,” he said. “I think his story could be huge in setting the pace for the future generations.”