To honor slain activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph, inmates from across Louisiana’s prison system donated $11,350 to her African-American museum in Baton Rouge that was closed down following her murder last year.
Louisiana Department of Corrections inmates presented the donation Thursday to the management of the Odell S. Williams African-American Museum, which was founded in 2001 by Roberts-Joseph and named after a Baton Rouge educator.
The museum has been closed since administrators and residents at Baton Rouge received the news of the death of Roberts-Joseph last July.
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Police had found the body of the community rights activist in the trunk of her car. Officials later said Roberts-Joseph died of traumatic asphyxia, and the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner ruled the death a homicide.
Ronn Jermaine Bell, a man who was a tenant in a building that Roberts-Joseph owned, was believed to have killed her and was arrested.
Robert-Joseph’s son and daughter, who received the gift in their mother’s honor, said they hope to reopen the museum in June, with plans of adding a library and expanding outreach.
“This is such a blessing. 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,” Robert-Joseph’s daughter Angela Roberts Machen told WBRZ 2.
The money was donated from inmate clubs and programs.
Some of the inmates who spoke during the presentation said they hope the gift will help support operations of the museum.
“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. “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.”
Jimmy Le Blanc, the state’s top prison official, commended the inmates for their donation.
“Our inmate organizations are very generous, donating money each year to worthy causes. I’m very proud of them for helping the family continue the legacy of Ms. Sadie,” said Le Blanc.
Some of the inmates were later allowed to tour the museum. Fascinated by black history, Roberts-Joseph had set up the museum after authorities were unwilling to make black history part of the mandatory school curriculum.
The building features “African art, exhibits on growing cotton and black inventors as well as a 1953 bus from the period of civil rights boycotts in Baton Rouge. It also has prominent exhibits on President Barack Obama, whose presidency Roberts-Joseph cited as an inspiration to children,” a report by The New York Times said.
Being one of her vital projects, Roberts-Joseph operated the museum on her own with the help of grants and volunteers while the church pays for the utilities.
Roberts-Joseph, known throughout her community as Ms. Sadie, organized an annual festival at the museum celebrating Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S.
Before the idea of a local museum in Baton Rouge came to mind, Roberts-Joseph, in 1993, started the nonprofit Community Against Drugs and Violence after a family relative was accidentally shot.
As president of the organization, Roberts-Joseph educated young people about the importance of staying in school, finding a job and leaving a fulfilled life.