The Untold Story Of The Only Black Man On Board The Titanic

Written by Rewindingblack

On April 10, 1912, Joseph Laroche, accompanied by his wife Juliette and two young daughters, took a train from Paris to Cherbourg, France, where they boarded the ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic, the largest passenger ship in the world.

From documents and histories, we can piece together facts about Laroche, who, in his lifetime, received a good education, but, like many of his counterparts, encountered racism:

He was born on May 26, 1886 in Cap Haitien, Haiti on the northern coast of the country, its second-largest city. Today the city is home to the second-largest airport in the country and attracts many tourists.

Laroche came from a rich lineage, as his uncle, Cincinnatus Leconte, was once president of the Caribbean island. Leconte’s great-grand-father was an African slave who served as Haiti’s first president in its then newly-independent state. He was addressed as “Emporer Jacques I of Haiti.”

In 1901, 15-year-old Laroche left home with dreams of becoming an engineer. According to the Titanic Historical Society (THS,) located in Indian Orchard, Mass., he traveled to Beauvais, France with teacher Monseigneur Kersuzan, the Lord Bishop of Haiti.

On a trip to Villejuif, France, Joseph met Juliette Marie Louise Lafargue, an upper-middle-class French woman three years his junior and daughter of a wine-seller. The two fell in love and married at the Lafargue home in March 1908.

By then Joseph had graduated with his certificate. However, racial discrimination in the country hindered a brown-skinned person from finding adequate work. The newlywed and father of two was able to find work, but was not paid the salary someone of his caliber deserved, according to the THS.

By March 1912 Louise was pregnant with the couple’s third child, leaving them no choice but to move to Haiti, where a young engineer of any race was sure to be in high demand. Laroche’s mother bought first-class tickets for her son’s family to travel on the French ship, Le France. However, the couple fatefully traded the tickets for Titanic tickets when they learned that children could not dine with parents for meals.

The family boarded the Titanic on the evening of April 10, 1912, at Cherbourg, France. According to the museum exhibit, the family spent most of their time enjoying the British luxury liner. But some crew members did make disparaging comments to Laroche and his daughters, believing they were Italian or Japanese because of their darker skin.

On the night of April 14, Laroche was in the smoking parlor with other men when he felt the ship hit the iceberg. He ran back to his room to check on his wife and daughters.

When the ship began to sink, Laroche placed the family’s money and valuables in a coat and draped it around his wife’s shoulders. (The coat was later stolen.) He then placed his family in a lifeboat and stayed on the ship helping get other women and children to safety.

He told his wife he would meet her in New York. But he didn’t survive and his body was never found.

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