One of the first official school renamings to take place in the Bay Area after debates during the last two years over the legacies of racism and slavery is happening in Marin County, where Sir Francis Drake High School, known familiarly as Drake High, will get a new name next school year.
Why there are so many things named for Sir Francis Drake in Marin is sort of baffling, and probably points to some 20th Century desire to connect California's history with European explorers, or something. But Drake's participation in the slave trade early in his seafaring career, combined with his having "claimed" Native American-occupied California for England — to absolutely no real end — in 1579, combine to make him no longer worthy of honorariums. It's a case where, for years, people accepted that Marin County had all these things named after this long-dead white guy, and finally some people looked at the real history and questioned why this ever happened.
As other statues were being toppled in San Francisco and elsewhere in June and July 2020, a 30-year-old, contemporary sculpture of Drake at Larkspur Landing was protested, vandalized, and ultimately removed by the county.
And while the town of Fairfax has voted to rename its section of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, the Marin County Board of Supervisors along with the towns of San Anselmo, Ross, and Larkspur have voted to keep the name intact — with the county saying it will likely come up with a second ceremonial or "co-name" at some point.
Drake High School in San Anselmo, meanwhile, will be getting a new name in the coming months, as KPIX reports. After a name-selection committee debated dozens of proposed names, the county school board voted unanimously Tuesday to name the school after the late teacher Archie Williams, who died in 1993.
Williams, who was African American, was a beloved math teacher and coach at Drake High for 21 years. A former Tuskegee Airman and Olympic gold medalist sprinter in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, Williams was well known in the school community and still fondly remembered, nearly 30 years after his death at the age of 78.
"Archie was the most interesting person ever to live in Marin County," said his son, Carlos Williams, who lives in Sausalito, speaking to KPIX earlier this month. Carlos says that his father considered his teaching career to be his greatest accomplishment. "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," he said.
"I feel like this is historic," said naming-committee member Kendall Galli, a teacher at Drake High School, per the Marin Independent Journal. "I’m proud to sit in this group. Our integrity, hard work and persistence have paid off. Now we have a chance to galvanize a voice that has been marginalized for a long time."
The changing of signage, uniforms, and other items at the school to bear the Williams name is expected to happen over the next several months, before the start of the next school year.
Photo: Cal Athletics