Guide to the Wilson C. Riles papers, 1918-1983

California State University, Sacramento Special Collections & University Archives
The Library
2000 State University Drive East
Sacramento, CA, 95819-6039

Title: Wilson C. Riles papers
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 2003/09
Contributing Institution: California State University, Sacramento Special Collections & University Archives
Language of Material: English
Physical Description: 103.75 Linear feet (79 record cartons, 6 manuscript boxes and oversize)
Date (inclusive): 1918-1983
Abstract: Collection consists of speeches, articles, reports, subject files, and personal files pertaining to Wilson C. Riles, the first African American to be elected as state superintendent of schools in California.
creator: Riles, Wilson C.

Preferred Citation note

[Identification of item including date], [Folder Title], MSS 2003/09, Wilson C. Riles papers, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, The Library, California State University, Sacramento.

Biographical/Historical note

Born in Elizabeth, Louisiana in 1917, Wilson Riles was orphaned at a young age. Family friends stepped forward to act as his foster parents. Encouraged to pursue his education byhis foster parents, teachers, and the members of his church, Riles worked his way through J.W. Hoffman Junior High School and McDonogh No. 35 Senior High School in New Orleans by delivering milk in the early mornings. Soon after his graduation, his foster parents relocated to Arizona. Riles joined them, enrolling in Arizona State Teachers College (now Northern Arizona State University), in 1936. By working a number of odd jobs he was able to pay his college expenses and graduate in 1940 with a major in education and a minor in history.
In the ensuing years he taught, became a principal, earned a Master's degree, and then came to California to work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation as a regional secretary. In 1958, Riles moved to Sacramento to join the California State Department of Education as a Consultant in Certified Employment Practices, (the title later changed to Consultant in Intergroup Relations). He was the Department's first African-American professional employee.
Riles became an expert in intergroup relations and the education of disadvantaged children. He served as Chief of the Bureau of Intergroup Relations, and as Chief of the Bureau of Compensatory Education (this position also carried the title of Associate Superintendent of Public Instruction). As his responsibilities increased, he began to attract national attention. Then-President Nixon invited him to Chair his task force on Urban Education.
In 1970 Riles, now the Deputy Superintendent for Program and Legislation, became convinced that the State's educational system could not survive another term under Max Rafferty. After being encouraged to run for State Superintendent of Public instruction, he decided to accept the challenge in spite of the fact that Rafferty appeared unbeatable. Following an intense campaign that featured several acrimonious debates, Riles was elected with 54% of the votes cast. California citizens re-elected Riles twice more, in 1974 and 1978.
Education during the Riles years experienced many stresses and exciting changes. It survived busing, integration, student unrest, and Proposition 13. Programmatic innovations of the time included Early Childhood Education, the School Improvement Program, and the Master Plan for Special Education. In 1983, after a bitter campaign against a former supporter, Riles left office to form an educational consulting firm, Wilson Riles and Associates, Inc.

Custodial History note

The Wilson C. Riles papers were assembled by Dr. Wilson Riles over many years to document California education policy as a State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The collection was then stored inside the Wilson Riles Archives and Institute for Education (WRAIE) until 2003, when it transferred to California State University, Sacramento's Special Collections and University Archives.


Copyright is protected by the copyright law, Chapter 17 of the U.S. Code. Requests for permission to publish, quote, or reproduce from collections must be submitted in writing to the Head of the Department of Special Collections and University Archives. Permission for publication is given on the behalf of the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, The Library, California State University, Sacramento as the owner of the physical item and is not intended to include permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the researcher.

Conditions Governing Access note

For information about this collection, contact the Head of the Department of Special Collections & University Archives.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Rafferty, Max Lewis, 1917-
Riles, Wilson C.
African Americans.