SAN FRANCISCO -- Archie Williams, a black runner whose gold medal performance at the 1936 Olympics helped foil Hitler's hopes of using the games to showcase Aryan athletes, died of a heart attack at his home in Fairfax on Thursday. He was 78.
He won the 400-meter race in 46.5 seconds at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, while teammate Jesse Owens captured much of the national spotlight by winning three individual gold medals.
In 1939, he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. But despite his degree, professional limits placed on blacks at the time forced him to dig ditches briefly for the East Bay Municipal Utility District. "I remember him telling me that he couldn't get a job when he finished his engineering degree," said Vesta Williams, his wife of 50 years. "It was racism. . . . They weren't hiring black engineers."
He subsequently pursued a pilot's license. For the next 22 years, he trained pilots at the Tuskegee Institute and in the Army Air Forces, which he joined in 1942. He retired from the military as a lieutenant colonel. He became a teacher, then returned to flying as co-owner of Blue Sky Advertising.
Other survivors include his two sons, Archie Williams Jr. and Carlos K. Williams.