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Wilson Camanza Riles
23rd California Superintendent of Public Instruction

In office
Governor Ronald Reagan (1971–1975)
Jerry Brown (1975–1983)
Preceded by Max Rafferty
Succeeded by Bill Honig
Personal details
Born (1917-07-27)July 27, 1917
Alexandria, Louisiana
Died April 1, 1999(1999-04-01) (aged 81)
Sacramento, California
Resting place Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery and Mausoleum

Sacramento, California

Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Mary Louise Phillips
Profession Educator
Military service
Service/branch United States Army Air Corps
Years of service 1940–1945
Battles/wars World 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 of Max Rafferty's. 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]


External links[]

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