Judge reflects on his life from busboy to barrister

 By Steve Thorpe

Legal News
 
The University of Detroit Mercy School of Law hosted retired Administrative Law Judge Roy L. Roulhac, a 1975 graduate, on Tuesday, July 15. After a reception, he spoke on the topic “From Busboy to Barrister: Reflections on Life as a Lawyer, Genealogist, Author, and Administrative Law Judge.”
He had kind words for the law school, which admitted him in the 1970s.
“The diversity that existed even then was impressive,” he says. “They saw something in me that the other universities didn’t. They didn’t go strictly by my grades or LSAT score.”
Roulhac told the audience about serving as a waiter at the Washington Press Club when Martin Luther King, Jr., was the first African-American to speak there. He also recalled his time at UDM Law, including his role as co-founder of the Black Law Students Association, his post-graduate career and his rise as an ALJ, and his civic and philanthropic involvement, including establishing a scholarship fund recently at UDM Law after he retired.
Born in Marianna, Fla., Roulhac  is past president of the Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society and editor of “Jackson County, Florida,” which documents the lives of African Americans from slavery through the difficult and violent Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras to the increasing tolerance of the 20th century.
Roulhac has also endowed a scholarship at Chipola College for African American students for Jackson County students who recently graduated from high school or are currently enrolled at Chipola. The application must include a 500-word essay detailing how perseverance influenced the contributions of a Jackson County African American during Reconstruction or the early 20th century.
Roulhac is also the author of Slave Genealogy of “The Roulhac Family: French Masters and the Africans They Enslaved,” published in 2012. In the book, Roulhac shares his journey through 18th- and 19th-century wills, probate records, bills of sale and other primary and secondary sources to connect missing pieces of his family’s past and of all African-descended Roulhacs.
“The book is a compilation of a number of things,” he says. “It started out as an annotation of memoirs of three French brothers who came to this country between 1777 and 1792.” 
Roulhac updated Helen Prescott’s 1894 “Genealogical Memoir of the Roulhac Family in America” by adding the slave and Civil War histories of three French Roulhac brothers and four generations of their descendants.
“I was initially disappointed, because I thought they were going to help me with my research into the antebellum period,” he says. “But there were scant references to slavery. I decided to ‘fill in the gaps,’ so to speak.”
The tools of an attorney were extremely valuable to his efforts. 
“My law school background taught me research techniques,” Roulhac says. “I was able to go into archives and courthouses and know what was there and how to look for it. Many of the documents in the book are legal documents, because that was the only record kept of those who were enslaved.”
No matter how long he was immersed in his subject, he found himself mystified that so many otherwise normal citizens accepted slavery as normal.
“I’m always amazed that the institution of slavery was legally sanctioned and legitimized for so long,” he says. “To classify people as something other than people. As chattel. You have to have a pretty interesting belief system to get to that point. And then how fiercely its proponents fought in the Civil War to keep it in place.” 
For more information on the book, visit the Roulhac family’s website, www.roulhacfamilyassn.org.
Citing his own personal and career experience, Roulhac told his audience that, whatever obstacles are placed in their way, they need to maintain their focus and push forward.
“Despite adversity, you must persevere.”

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