A well-loved Baton Rouge activist and community leader, Sadie Roberts-Joseph, was found dead in the trunk of her car on Friday.
Roberts-Joseph, known as “Ms. Sadie,” founded the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American Museum in Baton Rouge in 2001, and is credited with helping to elevate Juneteenth—which commemorates the end of slavery—to a nationally recognized celebration. According to The Advocate,
Roberts-Joseph also organized an annual Juneteenth festival at the museum. She told The Advocate during the 2018 celebration that she led a “rebirth of Juneteenth” in 1991. The day commemorates June 19, 1865, the day Union soldiers delivered belated news of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to Texas. The document had been signed more than two years earlier, on Jan. 1, 1863 — declaring that all slaves in the South were free.
“News of freedom trickled down very slowly,” Roberts-Joseph said in 2018.
Details surrounding the 75-year-old activist’s death remain scant, beyond that her body was found in the trunk of a car around three miles from her home. The Baton-Rouge police department called her “a treasure to our community,” and said they were working diligently to determine who was responsible for committing “this heinous act.”
The museum, now known as the Baton Rouge African-American History Museum, features exhibits that range from African art to black inventors to a 1953 bus from the city’s civil rights boycotts.
“We have to be educated about our history and other people’s history,” Roberts-Joseph told the The Advocate in 2016. “Across racial lines, the community can help to build a better Baton Rouge, a better state and a better nation.”
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Roberts-Joseph grew up in Woodville, Mississippi before moving to Baton Rouge, where she attended Baton Rouge Vocational-Technical School and Southern University. In addition to her work as a respiratory therapy technician, she held several volunteer roles within the black community, and served as a minority business officer for the city. She also organized a Veterans Day celebration that honored veterans of all races who fought in the Civil War, as well as Community Against Drugs and Violence, a non-profit that worked to create a safer environment for children in North Baton Rouge. As she told The Advocate:
“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 said. “I find gratification that we are coming together and realizing our differences are not as great as our commonalities.”