Sadie Roberts-Joseph Founded the Baton Rouge African American History Museum
An arrest has been made in the death of a 75-year-old Louisiana woman who founded an African American history museum in Baton Rouge. Her body was discovered in the trunk of her car on July 12.
It had been feared that Sadie Roberts-Joseph, a civic and cultural activist, may have been targeted because of her work. However, the suspect, Ronn Germaine Bell, was a tenant in one of Roberts-Joseph’s rental homes who was behind on his rent, police announced Tuesday.
Police said Bell was several months behind on his rent and owed about $1,200. Bell has been charged with first-degree murder.
The Advocate reported Roberts-Joseph was the founder and curator of the Baton Rouge African American Museum, which she started in 2001 when it was called the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American Museum.
The museum sits on the campus of New St. Luke Baptist Church, where Roberts-Joseph’s brother is pastor.
“All my mother ever wanted was for this community to come together,” Roberts-Joseph’s daughter Angela said in a news conference Tuesday. “It’s ironic that that happened in death. What she wanted to happen in life came to fruition in death.”
It was the 911 calls from “concerned citizens” that led to the discovery of Roberts- Joseph’s body. A preliminary autopsy by the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office revealed the cause of death as traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation.”
Roberts-Joseph also organized an annual Juneteenth festival at the museum, marking the date June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers delivered belated news to Texas that Pres. Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all Southern slaves free. The document had been finalized more than two years earlier.
The museum features African art, exhibits on growing cotton and black inventors as well as a 1953 bus from the period of civil rights boycotts in Baton Rouge. It also has prominent exhibits on Pres. Barack Obama, whose presidency Roberts-Joseph cited as an in spiration to children.
“We have to be educated about our history and other people’s history,” Roberts-Joseph said in 2016. “Across racial lines, the community can help to build a better Baton Rouge, a better state and a better nation.”
Beatrice Johnson, one of Roberts-Joseph’s 11 siblings, lives two doors down from her sister’s home on a quiet street in Baton Rouge. She said Roberts- Joseph would come by every day. Johnson said her sister came over (July 12) because “she had mixed some cornbread, but her oven went out, and she brought it here to put in the oven.”
Gesturing toward her kitchen, Johnson said: “The bread is still there. She never came back to get it.”