Sadie Roberts-Joseph, an African American museum founder remembered as an activist for peace, was found dead in the trunk of a car about three miles from her home Friday, according to CNN.
A Louisiana coroner ruled her cause of death a homicide.
Roberts-Joseph is remembered as an activist for the Baton Rouge area. Roberts-Joseph founded the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American Museum in 2001. She hosted annual celebrations at the museum for Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery.
Police told local reporters it wasn’t immediately clear how the 75-year-old woman died. They did not immediately reveal to local reporters how her body was discovered.
WAFB-9 reported her body was found in the car at 3:45 p.m. Friday in the 2300 block of North 20th Street, off I-110 near Choctaw.
The Baton Rouge Police Department said they were mourning the loss of the “tireless advocate of peace in the community,” in a statement. The police department worked with her on several projects, including a bicycle giveaway and with Community Against Drugs and Violence (CADAV), an organization she co-founded. Police shared a photo with her along with the Facebook tribute and call for information.
Deputy Chief Robert McGarner called on the public to give police information on 94.1 FM Monday morning. He called her “an angel” and “a sweet, beautiful lady” who was “loved by everyone in the community.”
He said people need to come forward and share anything they know about the case.
“They need to come forward and give that information because the police department – we can’t do it by ourselves. Law enforcement can’t do it by ourselves. It has to be a team,” he said.
“The problem is that we have to stop sitting back and letting this stuff happen in our community and we don’t do anything about it,” he added.
State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, who represents the 61st District of Louisiana, wrote a tribute to Roberts-Joseph saying her “heart is empty.” She asked those with information to come forward.
The NAACP Baton Rouge branch wrote they “lost a cultural legend.”
Police are seeking information on a suspect. Anyone with information is asked to call Baton Rouge detectives at detectives at 225-389-4869 or Crime Stoppers at 225-344-STOP (7867).
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sadie Roberts-Joseph Founded African-American Museum And Strove For Unity
Sadie Roberts-Joseph founded the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American Museum in 2001 aimed at creating unity. She told The Advocate learning about the history of slavery helps communities “”heal from the legacy of slavery and move forward.”
She encouraged the black community to acknowledge historical injustices and speak out against current injustices to close racial divides and create a brighter future.
“If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going,” she told The Advocate in 2016. “We have to be educated about our history and other people’s history. Across racial lines, the community can help to build a better Baton Rouge, a better state and a better nation.”
The museum includes colorful displays and a 1953 Baton Rouge city bus and a trolley, she said during an interview with WAFB in 2016 before the annual Juneteenth celebration. The museum also has a historical walking trail where walkers learn about African American art and history.
“Immerse yourself in a museum experience like no other in Baton Rouge,” the museum’s description of Visit Baton Rouge says. “Vibrant colors and displays paint the picture of the then and now of African American History. Step aboard an authentic 1953 bus from the year of the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott and learn about the efforts led by this city. See the growth of three different types of cotton in the museum’s garden. Hear the stories of people of color from right here in Baton Rouge and Louisiana. The museum showcases faces of African American contributors in various fields, rural artifacts, African Art, and minority inventions that impact our day-to-day activities.”
2. Sadie Roberts-Joseph Revived Juneteenth Celebrations
Sadie Roberts-Joseph revived annual Juneteenth celebrations in Baton Rouge, marking the abolition of slavery, in 1991.
June 19, 1865, marks the day slaves learned they were free more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was signed on Jan. 1, 1863. Union soldiers delivered the news to Texas on what became known as Juneteenth.
“It’s 151 years since freedom came,” she said in a 2016 interview with WAFB.
She said in the interview acknowledging history helps us examine “how we can move forward in unity and in strength.” Learning about historical events can “bridge the gap of unity,” she said.
“Stepping back. Leaping forward,” she said.
She also advocated for Juneteenth to become a national holiday, leading a march to the Mississippi River to raise the Juneteenth flag, The Advocate reported.
3. She Teamed Up With Baton Rouge Police To End Violence
Sadie Roberts-Joseph co-founded Community Against Drugs and Violence (CADAV), a non-profit organization aimed at ending violence in Baton Rouge. She often teamed up with the Baton Rouge Police Department on community efforts, they said in a statement.
“Ms. Sadie was a tireless advocate of peace in the community. We had opportunities to work with her on so many levels,” the police department wrote on Facebook.
The group’s mission statement says it is comprised of concerned citizens with a goal to “develop a sense of pride, dignity, and awareness in our community.”
“CADAV’s mission is to combat drugs, street violence and social blight, thereby creating a safer environment for our children to grow, prosper, and become productive self-sufficient citizens,” the statement said.
The group holds events including community-wide clean-ups with “Glad Bag -Trash Bash” and Keep Baton Rouge Beautiful Scenic “Sweep”, political candidate forums, annual Christmas and Juneteenth parades, Fun Day in the Park, Neighborhood “HOLIDAY” Pageants where the “Ms Banks” queens are selected and crowned, Sidewalk J.A.M. Bible study in the park, youth lock-in workshops, tutorial programs, Louisiana’s 1st SPARK Park, annual membership galas and other events.
“CADAV is in place to empower the residents; alleviate drugs, abandoned houses, and cars, run down businesses and other unwanted sites in our community, form partnerships to enhance educational and economic opportunities and, to reduce crime and violence in the neighborhood in which we live,” the statement says. “In addition, we will disseminate information, address the request and concerns of the citizens and create activities that will attract our youth and promote a safe environment for our children, our senior citizens, and ourselves.
“We, as an organized unit, feel that if the residents of the various communities are empowered, they too can take control of their own destiny and bring about positive changes in their own neighborhoods.”
4. Sister Said She Saw Her The Day of Her Disappearance
Sadie Roberts-Joseph’s sister, Beatrice Johnson, told The Advocate she lived two doors down from her sister in a quiet Scotlandville neighborhood and saw her daily. Friday, the day of her disappearance, was no different.
Roberts-Joseph stopped by her sister’s house to bake cornbread. She mixed the cornbread at her home, but stopped by her sister’s house because her oven went out.
“She would come by here every day,” Johnson told the news outlet. “Friday, she came by (because) she had mixed some cornbread, but her oven went out, and she brought it here to put in the oven. “The bread is still there. She never came back to get it.”
5. Tributes to the Activist Flooded Social Media
Sadie Roberts-Joseph grew up in a family of 12 children in Woodville, Mississippi. The family later moved to Baton Rouge. She attended Baton Rouge Vocational-Technical School and later studied speech pathology and education at Southern University. She worked for decades as a certified respiratory technician. She also served as the minority business leader for the city of Baton Rouge, according to The Advocate.
Her volunteer roles in the black community earned her prominence and notoriety. She was a beloved community leader known for her efforts advocating for peace and unity.
“When I try to do something, God always opens doors, and I try to do the very best that I can, not necessarily for me but particularly to help inspire and educate the younger generation,” she told The Advocate in 2016. “I find gratification that we are coming together and realizing our differences are not as great as our commonalities.”
She had two children, Jason Roberts and Angela Roberts Mechan, commissioner on the Greater Baton Rouge Port Commission.
Tributes flooded in for Sadie Roberts-Joseph on social media, including from local community leaders and organizations.
The local branch of the NAACP called Sadie Roberts-Joseph “a cultural legend.”
“From reviving Juneteenth, to the Culture preserved at Her Museum, she was a trendsetter and icon in this City,” they wrote.
State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, who represents the 61st District of Louisiana urged anyone with information about her friend’s death to come forward.
“This woman was amazing and loved her history,” she wrote. “She never bothered anyone, just wanted to expand her African American Museum downtown, where she continually hosted the Juneteenth Celebration yearly. I loved working with her and am saddened by her death…. whoever knows what happened to her, please contact the authorities and say something. RIP my friend!!!”
Several members of CADAV shared photos of Sadie Roberts-Joseph and her work with the organization.
“I am heartbroken for your family for the loss of Ms. Sadie.
Her spirit was infectious.
Her conviction unrelenting.
Her influence inspiring to our community,” Casey Phillips wrote, along with photos from a 2014 mural program.
Patricia Haynes Smith questioned, “Who would want to hurt Sadie?”
“She had given her life to proving children and adults alike the opportunity to know and live Black History. I’m completely baffled that someone would take her life,” she wrote.
Councilwoman Donna Lewis wrote Sadie Roberts-Joseph’s legacy will live on in Baton Rouge.
“My heart is aching. I have know Ms Sadie for over 30 years. A wonderful sweet and quiet soul. Soft spoken with a passion for the community and African American History and Art.
“I pray for quick resolution in bringing the person responsible to justice. I pray Gods strength and peace for her family and the many lives who are saddened by her death. May her legacy and work continue to live through the African American Museum and the many efforts she championed in the community.
“She leaves her footprint on the entire parish and far
Mayor Sharon Weston Broome wrote a lengthy tribute to her friend on Instagram, saying she was shocked by the sudden loss of the beloved community leader. She offered an award for information leading to an arrest.
“In the midst of managing a major weather event in our parish, I was hit with some devastating news – the murder of a dear friend and a mother of the community- Sadie Roberts Joseph. I’ve deliberately waited to comment because of the level of love and respect I had for Sadie; and because it was such shocking news. She loved this city and its people. Her commitment to the cultural and educational fabric of our community is beyond description. The development of The Odell S. Williams African American Museum is a testament of her visionary and pioneering leadership. In the days to come, I look forward to offering a more comprehensive tribute. Please keep her family in your prayers.
“If you have any information that may assist in solving this horrific crime, please call Crime Stoppers at 344-STOP(7867)
As an extra incentive, cash rewards are paid up to $5,000 for information which leads to the arrest and indictment of a person (s) that committed a felony crime. There are No Names, No ID, and No Court when you contact Crime Stoppers. But you must contact Crime Stoppers to become eligible for the cash reward and to remain anonymous. ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing.’ Edmund Burke”