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The Louisianan district of East Baton Rouge was shaken by horrific news earlier this month – the dead body of civil rights activist, Sadie Roberts-Joseph, was found abandoned in a car trunk. The shocking discovery has triggered an outpouring of sympathies, spanning on- and offline with many expressing disbelief. The 75-year-old was a celebrated figure. Lovingly referred to as, “Ms Sadie”, the activist was well-known for her zealous attitude and the energy she created to invoke systemic change.
This zeal was not only translated in her choice to don vibrant African dresses – a signature style of Roberts-Joseph. Rather, it was additionally embodied in her impassioned stance on peaceful civic engagement and her charitable contributions. These sought to empower the community.
Described as a “senseless” act, Roberts-Joseph was found in her own car trunk on the afternoon of Friday, July 12th, after an anonymous tip had alerted local authorities. She had been baking with one of her sisters earlier in the day. “The bread is still there”, her sister recounted. “She never came back to get it.” It would take the weekend for the coroner’s office to determine that the death of the civil rights activist was a homicide, specifically “traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation”.
A representative of the coroner’s office went on to say that “none of us understand why anybody would do this to an elderly lady who has done nothing but good for her community”. Democratic Councilwoman Denise Marcelle expressed online that her “heart is empty…This woman was amazing and loved her history. She never bothered anyone…I loved working with her and am saddened by her death.” A disgruntled tenant of Roberts-Joseph has been charged and arrested since the discovery of the body. While authorities are unsure about the specific motivation for the murder, local law enforcement does believe that the tenant had owed a backlog of rent.
Although Roberts-Joseph may not be recognised as a household name, there is a need to acknowledge how her consistent humanitarian efforts sought to empower the predominately Black community on a micro-level. Within these safe-spaces, acceptance and shared histories are taught, where individuality is fostered.
Roberts-Joseph’s activism included curating and founding The Baton Rouge Odell S.Williams Now & Then Museum of African-American History in 2001; founding the non-profit organisation that worked with law enforcement, Community Against Drugs and Violence; organising and celebrating the inclusive annual Veterans Day festivities; as well as reviving a lesser-recognised aspect of Black American history, Juneteenth, through community awareness and festivities.
“We have to be educated about our history and other people’s history”, Ms. 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.” These words are paramount in today’s tumultuous political climate.
One can only hope that the invaluable lessons imparted by the activist will continue to be embodied and acted upon.
Rest In Power, Ms Sadie.