Authorities in Baton Rouge, Louisiana continue to investigate the death of a beloved civil rights activist and icon whose demise has left the community shocked and in mourning.
A preliminary autopsy released Monday determined that Sadie Roberts-Joseph, 75, died from traumatic asphyxia, including suffocation, the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office confirmed, per local station WAFB. The local activist was discovered dead in the trunk of a car just after 3:45 p.m. on Friday.
Her death has since been ruled a homicide.
“It’s with great sadness and respect that we investigate any unexpected or traumatic death,” EBR coroner Beau Clark, said in a statement. “When our investigation involves an innocent victim, such as Ms. Sadie Roberts-Joseph, it is particularly tragic. Our condolences are extended to Ms. Joseph’s family and friends.”
So far, detectives have remained mum about what they’ve learned since the grim discovery, citing the need to protect the integrity of the case, according to the station. However, authorities said several members of the community have come forward and are willing to help in the case.
It was an anonymous caller who reported finding Roberts-Joseph’s body, said Baton Rouge police spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola. He said the car in which she was found was located just three miles from her home, though it’s still unclear who the vehicle belongs to.
Roberts-Joseph cemented herself as an icon and was a celebrated advocate in the Baton Rouge community. She founded the nonprofit Odell S. Williams Now & Then Museum of African-American history in 2001, and hosted the city’s Juneteenth festivities year after year.
She also launched the Community Against Drugs and Violence, a nonprofit dedicated to providing a safer environment for youths in Baton Rouge to “grow, prosper, and become productive self-sufficient citizens,” according to the EBRP Library’s website.
“Ms. Sadie was a tireless advocate of peace in the community,” Baton Rouge Police said in a statement. “We’ve had opportunities to work with her on so many levels. From assisting with her bicycle giveaway at the African American Museum to working with the organization she started called CADAV (Community Against Drugs and Violence).”
“Ms. Sadie is a treasure to our community,” they added. “She will be missed by BRPD and her loss will be felt in the community she served.”
On Friday, Coppola said it’s unclear if Roberts-Joseph received any threats prior to her death, adding that it’s too early in the investigation to determine if her death was racially motivated.
Kind words and tributes honoring the slain activist flooded social media as reports of her death spread. Scattered among the condolences were also conspiracies about the recent deaths of several vocal Black activists.
“Somebody really murdered Sadie Roberts–Joseph,” one Twitter user wrote. “She was one of the last black oral street historians of Baton Rouge and dedicated her life to telling the story of freedom fighters in my hometown with the most beautiful art. Rest in Power, Miss Sadie. You didn’t deserve this.”
“This morning I woke up to horrible news that my mentor Sadie Roberts–Joseph was murdered and was found in the trunk of a vehicle on Friday evening,”author Blair Imani said. “My heart is broken. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajun – We belong to Allah and to Allah we shall return. Ameen.”
“We mourn the loss of Sadie Roberts–Joseph and offer condolences to her family, loved ones and the Baton Rouge community,” the NAACP added. “Black women must be protected at all costs — justice must be swift.”
Meanwhile, others speculated Roberts-Joseph’s death might be connected to those of at least four prominent Black activists who have died in the years following the protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Went to bed w/ the death of Sister #SadieRobertsJoseph (Baton Rouge) pressing my spirit last night,” one critic wrote. “Woke up and she was still there. Couldn’t help but to think of Darren Seals (Ferguson)–two local Blk leaders found dead in the trunks of cars. Both cities of recent Blk uprisings.”
Anyone with information on Ms. Sadie Joseph’s death is asked to contact Baton Rouge Police’s Violent Crimes Unit at 389-4869 or Crime Stoppers at 389-344-7867.