October 25, 2004

Riles papers include early Martin Luther King recording

One of the earliest known recorded interviews with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., obtained by the late Wilson C. Riles, is part of a substantial collection of papers and archival materials donated this year by the Riles family to the University.

The large and valuable collection spans nearly 50 years, from 1947 to 1995. It adds an important dimension to Sacramento State’s resources on African American history, and the history of public education in California, says archivist Sheila O’Neill.

Wilson C. Riles was one of the first African Americans elected to statewide office in California, serving as the superintendent of public instruction for three terms beginning in 1970. He began his career as a teacher in Arizona and then moved to California to become the first African American hired as a professional employee in the State Department of Education. He then worked his way up through the department before being elected superintendent.

His papers document a dramatic period of social change for educational institutions, including school integration, busing, student unrest and the impact of Proposition 13 on the state’s education system.

Riles gained national recognition for his innovative approaches to education and inter-group relations. His papers contain information on programs developed during his tenure, such as those for disadvantaged children and involvement of parents in the classroom.

The King recording is from a Feb. 28, 1956 interview, three months into King’s support for the Montgomery, Ala. bus boycott. In the recording King details his rationale for the boycott and the use of nonviolence. The boycott lasted for 380 days and pressured the city and the country to think differently about segregation and civil rights.

The recently discovered recording was obtained by Riles as a member of the Fellowship for Reconciliation, which conducted the interview.

A copy of the recording was also presented by the Riles family to the Martin Luther King Jr., Papers Project at Stanford University.

For more information contact Sheila O’Neill, head of special collections and University archives at 278-6144.


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