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Living Legends

Calvin J. Roach *
Inducted on May 18, 2002

Calvin J. Roach * Dr. Shane K. Bernard, author of the book The Cajuns: Americanization of a People said, "Calvin J. Roach, a Cajun from Mire, refused to be called a "coonass" by his employer, and, in the process made Cajun history when a U.S. Federal court sided with him, declaring that Cajuns were protected from discrimination by federal law."

Mr. Roach brought to court a very important 20th Century issue: Are the Cajuns a federally recognized group subject to protection under the Civil Rights Act? Thankfully federal Judge Edwin Hunter ruled that they were protected in the case of Roach v. Dresser Industries, 494 F. Supp. 215 (W.D. La. 1980).

In holding that the case would be heard on its merits, and in rejecting the defendant's contentions that since Acadia is not and never was an independent, sovereign nation, it could not be Calvin Roach's "national origin," the Judge said, "Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestors are odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality, and we decline to accept the argument that litigation of this sort should be governed by the principles of sovereignty." The E.E.O.C. cited Roach approvingly in its Comments to its Guidelines on Discrimination Because of National Origin for the proposition that national origin is determined from a person's "place of origin" and not limited to his "country of origin" (sovereignty).

Warren A. Perrin, President of CODOFIL, said, "In 1980, Codofil's President Jimmy Domengeaux supported Mr. Roach's claim, and today we honor Mr. Roach for his fortitude in protecting our cultural rights."

Calvin J. Roach was born in Rayne, LA on April 5, 1925. Although Mr. Roach spells his name in the Anglo fashion, his grandfather spelled it in the French form - Roche. His father was a farmer so it was not unusual for Calvin to find himself working in the cotton fields near Bosco and Mire, better known as Marais Bouleur. Like so many others in South Louisiana, when Roach began public school he spoke only French. He graduated from Rayne High School in 1941.

He served in the U.S. Navy from 1942-46 in the Armed Guard as a gunner on board merchant ships that carried supplies and ammunition in the Pacific during WW II.

While attending SLI, Calvin worked part-time in the sugar mills of south Louisiana as a sugar chemist. He graduated from SLI with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1951.

Roach was first employed by General Electric in Massachusetts, then General Motors in California. While at Westinghouse, Roach was Product Manager of the Boeing Space Center in Seattle, WA. He then moved back to Shreveport to work for the Sperry Rand Corporation at the ammunition plant, which supplied 150mm artillery shells and plastic explosives used in the Vietnam War.

Dresser Industrial Valve and Instrument Division employed him in Alexandria as Manager of Industrial Engineering. At Three-Mile Island, a nuclear facility where a Dresser valve failed, Roach was asked to investigate the failures. When he presented his findings, that Dresser lacked proper quality control, Dresser supervisors became upset and called Roach a "Whistle Blower" and a "coonass." When Roach objected to the use of the ethnic slur "coonass" by his superiors, Dresser Industries, the 12th largest company in the world, fired him in 1976. In response, Roach sued his former employer for ethnic discrimination, claiming that his outspoken refusal to be called a "coonass" had led to his termination.

In the lawsuit filed in Federal Court, claiming protection under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, Roach was represented by labor attorney Daniel E. Broussard, Jr. from Alexandria. Dresser offered to settle with Roach but only if Roach would remain silent for the next twenty years, and never speak about this lawsuit. After winning the initial legal round, Roach settled out-of-court with his former employer for an undisclosed sum. He then quietly went on with his life, an unsung hero of the Cajun pride movement.

Thus in the process, Cajuns were declared a federally protected minority in 1980. Interestingly, that trial made very little news in Louisiana at that time. Today Cajuns are included in the U.S. Census as a distinct minority group in America.

Roach is married the former Mazel Lagneaux of Duson and has three children.

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