Photo Credit: NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 10: A scale model of the RMS Titanic sits on display at the opening of the "Titanic at 100: Myth and Memory" exhibition on April 10, 2012 in New York City. The exhibit opened at the Melville Gallery, part of the South Street Seaport Museum, on the 100th anniversary of Titanic's launch on her maiden - and only - voyage. The exhibition features mayday communications from the ship, personal artifacts from survivors, production items from Titanic films and interactive multimedia tours through the ship. The British passenger liner sank in the North Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 1,500 people on April 15,1912 after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
The Untold Story Of Joseph Laroche, The Only Black Man Aboard The Titanic
The 1997 blockbuster romance Titanic was one of the most successful movies of all time. The movie is about the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic from the viewpoint of two people, Jack and Rose, who come from different social classes and eventually fall in love after meeting on the ship.
And while the film ultimately tells the story of the ship’s ill-fated voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, its success has proven to be unsinkable as it was the first film in history to top $1B at the box office and became the highest-grossing film ever at the time. Among so many other awards and accolades, the 1997 classic is listed as one of the best love stories of all time despite being based on two fictional characters.
But there was a real-life love story on the Titanic that was similar to the one in the movie and it involves a Black man named Joseph Laroche.
The Black Family Aboard The Titanic
Cap-Haitien is located in the northern part of the country of Haiti and it’s where Mr. Laroche was born on May 26, 1886. Laroche came from an affluent family. His uncle, Cincinnatus Leconte, also served as President of Haiti.
At the age of 15, Laroche decided that he wanted to study engineering. There was no school for such in Haiti so he left for France where he settled in Beauvais to attend engineering school. During his time in France, he met Juliette, the daughter of a wine seller. They soon became friends, fell in love, and decided to eventually get married.
After graduating from school, Laroche was looking for work with his qualified skills. Unfortunately, due to racial discrimination, he was unable to obtain a decent paying job.
In the midst of their second child being born, Juliette had faced many medical problems. Taking better care of her is why Laroche decided to move back home to Haiti to look for a better paying job to take care of his family.
When he learned that she was pregnant with their third child, Laroche opted for an earlier departure date to Haiti. Originally, Joseph’s mother purchased first-class passage for the family aboard CGT’s (French Line) newest steamship. The company, however, did not allow children to eat with their parents, so Laroche traded their tickets for second-class passage on the Titanic. The Haitian engineer was the only black man among the 2,223 passengers and crew.
The Night of the Accident
Juliette’s family told the Titanic Historical Society that a steward had come to their cabin and told them to wear their lifejackets because the Titanic had suffered an accident. Joseph put everything valuable including, money and jewels, in his pockets. Unable to understand, Juliette let Joseph, who spoke English fluently, lead her to the lifeboats.
It took roughly 2 hours and 40 minutes to sink after the ship hit the iceberg.
Laroche did not get on the lifeboat on the morning of April 15. He perished at the age of 25 along with approximately 1,500 other people. His body was never recovered.
Juliette returned to France with her daughters, Simonne and Louise. She later gave birth to a son in December 1912, who she named Joseph Jr, after their father. Louise Laroche was one of the last remaining survivors of the Titanic until her death in 1998.