Sadie Roberts-Joseph, the founder of Baton Rouge's African American history museum and a longtime voice for peace in her community, was suffocated last week before her body was found in the trunk of her car.
Police have disclosed few details about the case so far, but East Baton Rouge Coroner Dr. Beau Clark released preliminary autopsy results Monday afternoon. He said Roberts-Joseph, 75, died from "traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation." Her death has been ruled a homicide.
Traumatic asphyxia means a person's airways were physically blocked, cutting off their oxygen supply. That could result from strangulation, but the coroner's report doesn't specify how exactly Roberts-Joseph was killed.
A woman found dead in the trunk of a car Friday evening was the founder of Baton Rouge's African American history museum who helped jumpstart …
Her body was found Friday afternoon in the 2300 block of North 20th Street, about 3 miles from her Scotlandville home. Baton Rouge police confirmed Monday that she was found dead inside her own car.
News of Roberts-Joseph's death has rippled through the Baton Rouge community and beyond as local leaders have mourned the loss of someone devoted to preserving and celebrating African-American history.
"It is with great sadness and respect that we investigate any unexpected or traumatic death," Clark said in a statement. "When our investigation involves an innocent victim, such as Ms. Sadie Joseph, it is particularly tragic."
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In 2001, she founded the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African-American History Museum, which is on South Boulevard in Old South Baton Rouge. She also became known for organizing an annual Juneteenth festival at the museum — a public celebration of the end of slavery in the United States.
Through her decades of leadership in the Baton Rouge area, Roberts-Joseph presented a consistent message of unity and togetherness aimed at helping communities "heal from the legacy of slavery and move forward." She encouraged black residents to embrace their heritage, acknowledge past injustices and use their voices to close racial divides and create a brighter future: "If you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you're going."
"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."
Authorities have said investigators are working hard and releasing little information because they don't want to jeopardize the investigation.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted Monday evening about Roberts-Joseph's legacy, asking anyone with information about the crime to contact Baton Rouge police at (225) 389-4869 or Crime Stoppers at (225) 344-7867.
"I am heartbroken and sickened by the disturbing death of Sadie Roberts-Joseph … struggling to understand this senseless act of violence," Edwards wrote. "Sadie was a storyteller, and I believe we have the responsibility of keeping those stories alive and working to, as she once said, 'build a better state and a better nation.'"