The following is an excerpt from the Chicago Tribune, February 20, 2000:
Did you know that the Titanic included black passengers? Joseph Laroche, a Haitian-born, French-educated engineer left France with his family in 1912. Like Margaret Brown, they did not intend to travel on the Titanic.
Joseph Laroche was born in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, and traveled to France to study engineering when he was 15. His wife, Juliette, who grew up in a prominent privileged family, met her husband when she was 15. However, they were not allowed to marry until Joseph finished his degree. They were wed in March of 1908.
Laroche was unable to find “fair wages” in France as an engineer due to his race. He was bringing his family to Haiti where his family prospered. He had worked on the building of one of the early Metro lines in Paris. The Laroches planned to stay in France until 1913, but Juliette’s “delicate condition” necessitated that they leave early, while it was still safe to travel. He had purchased first class tickets for the French liner, France, but discovered just before departure that the ship did not allowed children to dine with their parents. As a result, Laroche, his wife Juliette- who was white- and their two young daughters quickly transferred their tickets to the Titanic. Their first class tickets were equivalent to second class tickets aboard the Titanic.
Like Margaret Brown, they boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg, France. The family and other passengers enjoyed the ship for three days. By survivor accounts, the couple socialized easily with other passengers. The family dined together for the last time at a 9:00pm seating. Joseph Laroche retired to the smoking parlor with other men in second class. Juliette and their daughters, three-year-old Simonne and one-year-old Louise, returned to their suite.
Later that evening, Joseph felt the collision, ran back to his room, and awoke his wife and daughters. As the mother and children were placed in a lifeboat on that frigid evening, Joseph draped his coat, stuffed with money and family valuables, across his wife’s shoulders. “You will need it,” he told Juliette, 22. “I will see you in New York. I must take another raft. God be with you.”
Those were the last words Joseph Laroche spoke to his wife. The coat was stolen, but Juliette and the girls survived. Joseph, 26, the only black man aboard the ship, was one of the 166 second class passengers who died.
Transported on the rescue ship Carpathia, Juliette, whose feet were frozen, and her daughters arrived in New York where they were treated at St. Vincent’s Hospital. She later returned to France, where Joseph Lemercier Laroche was born on December 17, 1912.
Juliette never remarried and never spoke of the disaster except in letters. She died in 1980. Her daughters never married. The younger Joseph Laroche, who married and had three children, died in 1987.
Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry highlighted the story of the Laroches and even Margaret Brown in their exhibit on the Titanic that ran in 2000.