Suspect Arrested in Death of Louisiana Civic and Cultural Activist

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Sadie Roberts Joseph. Photo courtesy of NewsOne.

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.”

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