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The African-American History Museum, in the Wake of Founder’s Death

Sadie Roberts-Joseph, founder and curator of the Baton Rouge African-American Museum, was murdered two weeks ago. She mentored young people and urged them towards self-sufficiency. She founded the nonprofit Community Against Drugs and Violence, and kept it going for nearly three decades. She hosted vigils for those killed by gun violence. Her museum, according to volunteer Myra Richardson, was her way of sharing black history with the young people of Baton Rouge. Roberts-Joseph was born to sharecroppers. She grew up picking cotton, and she was 75 when she died.

Her alleged killer was a tenant of hers. It was a shock to the community, Myra Richardson said, that somebody who knew her could “have such a disregard for life — especially her life,” But, as her family members said at her vigil, hating her killer isn’t what Roberts-Joseph would have wanted. He was a part of this city. “She cared for the city,” her son said. “She cared for him. She would want forgiveness for him.”

And the way she cared for the city is on full display in her African-American Museum. Located beneath Interstate 10, it’s the only museum dedicated to African-American history in all of Baton Rouge. The museum’s first room holds artifacts from African nations. The wallpaper of the second room is made up of clippings from the Louisiana Civil Rights movement. The third room is filled with paintings of black inventors, and the fourth and final room is filled with pictures of Barack Obama and African-American veterans. Outside the museum, in the parking lot, is a bus installation that commemorates the Civil Rights bus boycotts. Past that, away from the shadow of the interstate, is a patch of cotton. Roberts-Joseph planted it herself.

In 2001, she reached out to the Louisiana House of Representatives and the State Secretary of Education and petitioned for Louisiana public schools to fully cover the injustices still committed against black people. . Her request was denied, and she founded the African-American History Museum in this very same year. This, along with the tours she gave to local school groups, was part of her effort to nurture children into leaders. “She always thought if you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going,” her brother said. “Her main goal was to get people to learn their history. And it’s not black history. It’s American history.”

“All my mother ever wanted was for this community to come together. It’s ironic that that happened in death,” said Roberts-Joseph’s daughter. “What she wanted to happen in life came to fruition in death. However, we will see to it that her legacy continues.”

Featured Image by Marc Moss on Flickr

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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