Sadie Roberts-Joseph spent decades chasing her vision for the future, one where unity and peace prevailed.

The hundreds of people who attended her funeral Monday morning pledged to keep that vision alive. 

Roberts-Joseph's life was cut short when the Baton Rouge icon and civil rights activist was found suffocated and left in the trunk of her car earlier this month. Police announced last week the arrest of her tenant, who was about $1,200 behind in rent. Funeral services were held Monday at Living Faith Christian Center on Winbourne Avenue. 

Roberts-Joseph was best known for founding Baton Rouge's African American history museum and organizing an annual Juneteenth festival celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. Local residents and elected officials — the countless people she touched during her 75 years of life — have reacted to the community's loss with promises to continue, as best they can, the work she did.

"We are not here to mourn a death. We are here to celebrate a life well lived," said Lori Minor, a local minister and relative of Roberts-Joseph who spoke during the service, filling the church with her voice.

"We pray that Sadie's death will not be in vain" Minor said. "We pray that we will take action, that we will do something with our lives — something that is unifying, something that is uplifting."


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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards described Ms. Sadie's tremendous love for her family, her community and her state. He said she knew above all that "love one another" was a commandment, not a suggestion, and she didn't hesitate to share that message with the people around her. 

"She was a lady small in stature but mighty in spirit," Edwards said in his remarks during the service. "She understood the value of knowing the lessons taught by history … and telling stories that nobody else knew. I hope everyone will continue telling Ms. Sadie's story.

"Let us not ever forget what Ms. Sadie stood for: education, love and unity."

Roberts-Joseph became a public voice encouraging black residents to embrace their heritage, acknowledge past injustices and use their voices to close racial divides and create a better future: "If you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you're going." She worked to help communities "heal from the legacy of slavery and move forward."

"We have to be educated about our history and other people's history," she told The Advocate in 2016. "Across racial lines, the community can help to build a better Baton Rouge, a better state and a better nation." 

East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome called Roberts-Joseph "a beacon of light to our community" whose life is "woven into the fabric of our city."

"The power of her life has touched the hearts of thousands," Broome said. "We must keep her memory alive by emulating her life and character. Don't just talk about what she stood for. Stand for what she stood for." 

In addition to honoring her legacy, Roberts-Joseph's relatives painted a vivid picture of the woman they've lost: She was independent and determined, tirelessly inquisitive, and filled with warmth. 

"Sadie was always a very distinguished person," said her brother Joseph Armstrong, who pastors the church she attended on South Boulevard. "She always had more questions than you had answers. She never settled for maybe."

Armstrong said even he was skeptical when his sister presented her plans to launch an African American history museum on the church campus about 20 years ago, but she was determined to get it done.

When he pulled up outside the church the other day, Armstrong found himself overcome with grief. 

"I had to sit awhile, oh Lord, and just see: Who am I missing now? I'm missing somebody," he said. "We had a long life together. … We didn't expect it to be as short as it is. But 75 years is a good life — and she lived it." 

Her family spoke with humor about how Roberts-Joseph cut her own path with little regard for how other people perceived her. She clapped to a different beat, spoke out when others were silent, remembered when others forgot and fought for what was right when others walked away, said her nephew Rev. Shalamar Armstrong. "She demonstrated it's ok to live off beat. Off beat but on purpose." 

Hundreds of people filed into the church for her funeral on Monday, 10 days after her body was found and six days since police announced the arrest of Ronn Bell, 38, who faces a first-degree murder count.

Mourners wore traditional African prints at the family's request, forming a sea of bright colors — at times swaying together and raising their voices as the choir sang — in honor of a woman who sought a brighter future. 


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.