Saturday, February 17, 2007

UMWA President Speaks on UA Campus

Martin Luther King Jr. decided he should do what he knew was right, UMWA President Cecil Roberts said. It’s a lesson Roberts tried to convey to students at the UA Leflar Law Center. Roberts’ talk, “Labor and Civil Rights — The King Legacy,” was part of the Hartman Hotz Lecture Series on January 31st. A sixth-generation coal miner, Roberts drew parallels between the struggles of the civil rights and labor movements.

The link between the two movements is not a new one. In a 1961 speech to the AFL-CIO, King said, “We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the goodwill and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us. They deplore our discontent, they resent our will to organize, so that we may guarantee that humanity will prevail and equality will be exacted.”

In both instances, people risked their lives to fight established systems, and in both cases their sacrifices benefited the greater good. “It’s hard to do what’s right,” Roberts said. “It’s hard to do what God would want you to do.”

Local 965 member Cyndi Nance, dean of the law school, said the school brought Roberts, who is white, to UA to kick off events for Black History Month in February and to expose students to a different perspective. It takes many people willing to stand up for what they believe in to enact change, Roberts said. “The moment you say it’s all right for someone to be discriminated against, it’s all right for everyone to be discriminated against.”

Roberts has been UMWA president since 1995. “You’re going to be challenged in your lifetime,” he told the students. “When it’s your turn, look around you and just try to do what’s right.”

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