Wilson Riles

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Wilson Camanza Riles
23rd California Superintendent of Public Instruction
In office
GovernorRonald Reagan (1971–1975)
Jerry Brown (1975–1983)
Preceded byMax Rafferty
Succeeded byBill Honig
Personal details
Born(1917-07-27)July 27, 1917
Alexandria, Louisiana
DiedApril 1, 1999(1999-04-01) (aged 81)
Sacramento, California
Resting placeOdd Fellows Lawn Cemetery and Mausoleum Sacramento, California
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Mary Louise Phillips
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1940–1945
UnitUnited States Army Air Forces
Battles/warsWorld War II

Wilson Camanza Riles (June 27, 1917 – April 1, 1999) was an American educator and politician from California. He was the first African American to be elected to statewide office in California.


Riles graduated from Northern Arizona University in 1940 and served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.

He served three terms as the elected California State Superintendent of Public Instruction. His upset win in November 1970 over controversial incumbent Max Rafferty[1] was described as "one of the most stunning upsets in California's political history".[2] Riles had been serving as a deputy superintendent under Rafferty and had almost no name recognition when he launched his campaign to replace Rafferty.[1] In 1970 Riles, then-Deputy Superintendent for Program and Legislation, became convinced that the State's educational system could not survive another term with Rafferty. Riles was elected to a second term in 1974 and a third term in 1978. In 1982 he lost his bid for a fourth term to Louis "Bill" Honig.[3]

Riles was the first African-American to be elected to statewide office in California.[4] He was also the first African-American in the nation to be elected state superintendent of schools. In 1973 he was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP for outstanding achievement by an African-American.


Riles was born June 27, 1917, near Alexandria, Rapides Parish, Louisiana. He was orphaned at an early age and was raised by family friends. He was married to the former Mary Louise Phillips. His son, also named Wilson Riles, served on the city council of Oakland, California, from 1979 to 1992.[5] Riles died April 1, 1999 at Mercy Hospital in Sacramento, California.[4]


He founded the Wilson Riles Archives and Institute for Education in Sacramento as a resource for historical information about K-12 public education in California. The facility includes an archival collection available for research, a traveling exhibit for display, and an information and referral service.[6]

Wilson C. Riles Middle School in Roseville, California, is named for him.[7]


  1. ^ a b "The Victory of Wilson Riles", Sacramento Bee editorial, November 10, 1970[dead link]
  2. ^ Wallace Turner (November 5, 1970). "Rafferty Is Defeated by a Negro As California Education Chief; A Black Unseats Rafferty In California School Race". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved May 25, 2014.
  3. ^ "Honig ousts Wilson Riles", Modesto Bee, November 3, 1982[dead link]
  4. ^ a b "Wilson Riles, former state school chief, dies at 81". The Sacramento Bee. April 3, 1999. p. A1.
  5. ^ "Full biography for Wilson Riles". League of Women Voters of California. January 23, 2002. Retrieved May 25, 2014.
  6. ^ "Wilson Riles Archives and Institute for Education".
  7. ^ "Wilson C. Riles Middle School".

External links[edit]