William Wesley Roath, Jr. was born in 1956, in Bozeman, Montana. Because his father was an Air Force careerist, Roath moved often while growing up. From 1981 through 1985, he attended UND. He graduated from UND in August 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics with minors in History and Political Science.
While a student, Roath was elected to the Grand Forks City Council from Ward I as a Democrat. His candidacy was supported by the Prairie Campaign for Economic Democracy. As a city councilman, Roath chaired the Ad Hoc Committee on Energy Research and the Mayor's Task Force on Nuclear Relocation Alternatives, was vice-chair of the Mayor's Task Force on Energy Preparedness, and was a member of the Public Service Committee. In November 1984, Roath campaigned to represent District 42 in North Dakota's House of Representatives, although he lost by eighty votes. When he graduated in August 1985, Roath resigned his seat on the Grand Forks City Council and took a job as Director of Employment Training for the Goodhue-Rice-Wabasha Citizens Action Council in Minnesota.
In 1987, Roath became the Director of the Wright County [Minnesota] Community Action Agency. A year later he was named Executive Director of Emotions Anonymous for Minnesota. In 1990, Roath became the Executive Director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, the state's affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. During that same year, Roath served as a district manager for the Paul Wellstone campaign during his successful 1990 bid for the United States Senate seat from Minnesota. In July 1994, Roath began a position as coordinator of the North Dakota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The William W. Roath, Jr. Papers have been divided into three series:
Series 1: Personal Materials
Series 2: Grand Forks City Council Subject Files
Series 3: Policies and Procedures