Baton Rouge Black History Museum Founded by Late Activist Presented Check for More Than $11K by Louisiana Inmates

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Over $11,000 was gifted in the name of Louisiana state inmates to an iconic African-American history museum in Baton Rouge established by a beloved activist found murdered last year.

Louisiana Department of Corrections inmates presented a check for $11,350 to the Odell S. Williams African-American Museum on March 12, local outlets reported. The museum, established by Sadie Roberts-Joseph in 2001 and named in honor of a Baton Rouge educator, has been closed since Roberts-Joseph’s untimely death.

Sadie Roberts-Joseph
Activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph was found slain in the trunk of her car last July. (Photo: NAACP Baton Rouge branch/Facebook)

The 75-year-old was found dead in the trunk of her car in July 2019, reportedly smothered by man she’d been renting to and who owed her nearly $1,200 in back rent. The suspect, Ronn Bell, was charged with second-degree murder and faces life in prison if convicted.

State corrections officials and inmates who spoke last Thursday said they were grateful to be presenting the gift, which The Advocate reported came from “inmate clubs and programs,” in Roberts-Joseph’s honor.

“We may not be a part of the Baton Rouge community, but what Sadie Roberts-Joseph stood for is a part of us,” said Candice Malone, an inmate at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, according to the newspaper. “Some of us have taken what could never be given back. In lieu of that, we would like to give back what we can, which is only a small portion.”

Elayn Hunt Correctional Center inmate Hayward Jones spoke of how the late activist inspired the local community, adding: “She showed us who we should be. She gave us some direction.”

Roberts-Joseph’s son and daughter were there Thursday to accept the check in their mother’s memory, and they discussed new projects at the museum, including plans for a library, that would be funded by the donation.

“This is such a blessing,” the activist’s daughter, Angela Roberts Machen, told reporters. “This museum meant so much to our mother, and it means so much to us to have these incarcerated individuals dig deep and give so much to keep this museum open.”

Jimmy LeBlanc, the state’s top prison official, also praised the inmates for the gift.

“Our inmate organizations are very generous, donating money each year to worthy causes,” he said. “I’m so very proud of them for helping the family continue the legacy of Ms. Sadie.”

Last week, some of the inmates got a chance to tour the museum, TV station WBRZ reported.

News of Roberts-Joseph’s death rocked the city of Baton Rouge, where she was a revered leader best known for hosting the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration.

“Ms. Sadie was a tireless advocate of peace in the community,” the Baton Rouge Police Department said at the time. “We have 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.”

The late activist’s family said they hope to reopen the museum in June.

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