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Authorities confirm that Baton Rouge activist's death was a homicide

Flowers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, outside the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African-American History Museum, whose founder Sadie Roberts-Joseph was discovered dead in the trunk of a car Friday.

MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASHINGTON POST

By HANNAH KNOWLES | The Washington Post | Published: July 15, 2019

The death of a Baton Rouge activist whose body was found in a car trunk last week has been ruled a homicide.

Sadie Roberts-Joseph died of traumatic asphyxiation, including by suffocation, according to an autopsy conducted Monday by the East Baton Rouge Coroner's Office.

The coroner's office is not releasing further details at this time, chief of investigations Shane Evans told The Washington Post on Monday. The final autopsy report could take up to 90 days.

Roberts-Joseph, 75, was discovered dead Friday afternoon three miles from her home, according to Baton Rouge police, who said Monday afternoon that they have no updates to offer in their ongoing investigation.

A community leader who founded the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African-American History Museum in 2001 and pushed to elevate Juneteenth to a state and national holiday honoring the freeing of U.S. slaves, Roberts-Joseph's death was mourned by local groups and officials, who praised her legacy.

"My heart is empty," Louisiana state Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a friend of Roberts-Joseph's, wrote on Facebook after learning about the death.

"We lost a Cultural Legend Yesterday!" the Baton Rouge branch of the NAACP said in a Facebook post, calling Roberts-Joseph a "trendsetter and icon" in the city.

Dedicated to historical preservation, Roberts-Joseph volunteered seven days a week at her museum, which highlighted African art, African American inventions and more. Neighbors and family members who spoke to The Post remembered Roberts-Joseph for her many roles, though: She worked at community centers, led trash cleanups and founded an organization to fight drugs and violence in her neighborhood.

"She was a total advocate of peace, love and harmony, and she died just the opposite," Roberts-Joseph's sister, 68-year-old Beatrice Armstrong-Johnson, told The Post on Sunday.
 

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