Wilson and Louise Riles Collection
- 62 black-and-white copy prints, with corresponding 4x5 negatives
- Views Include:
- The Wilson C. and Louise Riles collection consists of copies of photographs
made from a scrapbook which was presented to the Rileses by the Dunbar School
Parent Teacher's Association, when they left their positions as principal
and teacher, respectively, at Dunbar School in Flagstaff, Arizona, to move
to California in May of 1954.
- Biographic note:
- Wilson Camanza Riles was identified in a May 5, 1983 newspaper article as
"one of the most distinguished Northern Arizona University graduates
in the history of the institution." That would be quite an accomplishment
for any person under normal circumstances, but considering the era in which
his achievements were attained, for Dr. Riles, an Afro-American, it was an
- Wilson Riles was born on June 27, 1917 in Alexandria, Louisiana in a rural
sawmill camp, and was an only child. His mother died when he was 9, and his
father, who worked as a foreman in the turpentine camp, died when Wilson was
12. His church raised money to send him to New Orleans to high school.
- After graduating from high school, he moved to Flagstaff where he had relatives
working in the sawmills. His foster parents were Leon J. and Narvia Bryant.
He enrolled in Arizona State Teacher's College (re-named Northern Arizona
University in 1966) in September of 1936.
While a student, he worked at various jobs to afford the tuition. In 1939
he also served as union secretary of Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union No.
2772, and was active in the negotiations which culminated in a 40% pay raise
for the workers. Riles graduated from Arizona State Teacher's College with
a Bachelor of Arts degree in education in 1940, and began his career teaching
Afro-American children in a 1-room school in a logging camp near McNary, Arizona
with a salary of $900.00 a year.
- In 1941, he met and married Louise Phillips, the daughter of a Phoenix dentist.
He and Louise had both obtained their teaching degrees from ASTC and they
began teaching at Dunbar School for Blacks in Flagstaff, which had been built
in 1926 when Arizona mandated segregation of Blacks and Whites. (It was named
after the prominent Black author, Paul Lawrence Dunbar.) While they were teaching
at Dunbar, Wilson was continuing his education at Arizona State Teacher's
College working toward his Master's Degree in School Administration. He entered
the Air Force in 1944 and served 3 years. Upon returning home to Flagstaff,
he resumed the pursuit of his Master's Degree which he completed in 1947,
and then was hired as teacher/principal at Dunbar School. He was also active
in civic affairs including being spokesman for the Booker T. Washington subdivision
on Flagstaff's south side (occupied by about 100 Black families) to have the
city install urgently needed sewage collection lines.
- The school was closed as a result of the United States Supreme Court's 1954 decision on Brown v. the Board of Education, making segregation
illegal. The students were integrated into other
Flagstaff schools. Wilson then accepted a position as Executive Secretary
of the Pacific Coast region of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (a religious
peace organization) and he and Louise and their four children (Michael, Narvia,
Wilson, and Phillip) moved to California.
- In 1958, Wilson Riles was named to an important post with the California
Department of Education, and in 1965 he was named Associate Superintendent
of Public Instruction for California (4.5 million students) to direct the
organization and administration of a $100 million Compensatory Education Program
which became a model for similar programs throughout the nation. He initiated
Early Childhood Education and Special Education Programs. Northern Arizona
University honored Riles in 1968 with the distinguished Alumni Achievement
Award. In 1969, he served in an appointive office as deputy superintendent
for programs and legislation in the California Department of Public Instruction.
In 1970 he was elected to the post of State Superintendent of Public Instruction,
becoming the first Black man to win a major California political post. He
was reelected 2 more times and served in the post for a total of 12 years
during which time he was also a member of the California Board of Regents.
Wilson was active at the national level as Chairman of the United States Office
of Education Task Force on Urban Education and was appointed to this post
three times by three different U.S. Presidents. He received the highest award
of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People when the
Springarn Medal was presented to him in 1973. Northern Arizona University
again honored Riles in 1975 when he was presented with his alma mater's Distinguished
Alumni Honoree medallion, and again in 1976 when Riles had conferred upon
him an honorary doctor of laws degree. (Dr. Riles had also received 7 other
honorary doctorates from universities in California and elsewhere in the country.)
In 1978 he received the Robert M. Hutchins Award for "significant contributions
to education." In 1979 he was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award
from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. He returned
to Northern Arizona University in 1983 to deliver the commencement address
at graduation, and in 1986 a campus building at Northern Arizona University
was named in his honor.
- After leaving public office in 1982, he started a educational consulting
and management service in Sacramento. Mr. Riles died in 1999..
Special Collections and Archives Department
Northern Arizona University
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