ByChristina Tenisha Small, writer at
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Christina Tenisha Small

It's not often that I take it upon myself to educate my readers, but as I sit here watching James Cameron's 1997 hit 'Titanic', I can't help but criticise the film, and pull it apart, as I do everything, and it was as I was doing this, that I noticed something.

There are no black actors, or indeed any ethnic characters at all, in this film.

Why? I asked, aren't there any black people in this film?

The answer seemed obvious. There were no black people aboard the Titanic.

I jokingly thought that if there were indeed any people of colour on the Titanic, they would've been doomed from the moment they got on board. If the underclass of white passengers aboard the ship, were being held back from getting on the lifeboats, then any black passengers sure as hell would've been left to the same, if not darker, fate.

So I did some research, and it took mere seconds for me to discover, that there was one man of colour aboard the RMS Titanic.


And that one man, was Haitian born, Paris educated, engineer, Joseph Laroche.

The only man of colour aboard the RMS Titanic.
The only man of colour aboard the RMS Titanic.

Joseph Laroche, a man who, at age 15 was sent to Beauvais, France for his education, boarded the ill-fated RMS Titanic on April 10th 1912, with his pregnant wife, Juliette, and two daughters, Simone and Louise. (born 1909 and 1910 respectively)

The family, had originally purchased First-Class tickets, but upon learning that they would not be allowed to dine with their children, (the children would have to remain in the nursery), they switched their tickets to Second-Class in order to keep their family together at all times. Ironic considering their fate.

The Laroche Family
The Laroche Family

Reading about the Laroche's, it has become clear to me, that they seem to have been purposefully left out of anything Titanic related. Through all the Titanic films I've seen, none, and I mean none, have mentioned the only black man to be aboard the ship. None of the documentaries I've watched, or history books I've read, - and believe me, I read loads - have mentioned or even given a nod to the only black man aboard the Titanic.

He was not a slave, or a waiter. He didn't work for a rich and wealthy white family. He wasn't uneducated, or a criminal, or a bad person in any way, shape or form. So my only thought, is that perhaps the story of the well-educated, Haitian-born, engineer, who did nothing but good in his life, is too much of a threat to the history books, movies and documentaries, that talk about the tragedy of all the white lives lost during the demise of the Titanic, but not of the many ethnic lives of the Third-Class passengers who also died aboard the Titanic.

It was too much of a threat to James Cameron's heart-shattering love story of rich white girl, meets poor white guy. Admittedly, Cameron's Titanic was never meant to be an accurate depiction of real events. It was never meant to document the real life people aboard the ship, as evident by the love story between Rose & Jack, but a nod to the only black man aboard the Titanic, or indeed any of the other vast and various ethnic people all in Third-Class, would've been easy enough.

Regardless, Joseph Laroche, engineer and family man, fluent in English, and wealthy gentlemen overall, upon being told to put on life jackets as the ship had had an "accident", awoke his pregnant wife and two children, with the intention of saving them. In a moment not unlike a moment from the 1997 movie, Laroche put the family's jewels, money and anything of value into his coat pocket (the whereabouts of which, is not known) and ushered his wife and children into a lifeboat. Precisely which lifeboat they got into is not known for sure, but Juliette, apparently recollected that there had been a countess in her boat, which led to speculation that she was perhaps in boat 8, with the Countess of Rothes, Noel Leslie - a philanthropist and social leader, who helped row her boat to the rescuing ship, the RMS Carpathia.

Laroche, then stayed behind, as was the fate of most men aboard the RMS Titanic, amidst the "women and children only" policy of the lifeboats, and helped others onto lifeboats, all the while knowing of his fate.

Joseph Laroche, father, husband, beloved son & engineer, died amidst the tragedy of the RMS Titanic on April 15th, 1912, aged only 25.

He was survived, by three children. His youngest daughter, Simone, who died aged 64 in 1973, and had no children. His oldest daughter, Louise, who died aged 87, in 1998, and like her sister, bore no children. She was one of nine remaining Titanic survivors. And his son, born in France, and tentatively named Joseph by his mother, in his father's honour. He went on to marry, have kids and continue his fathers name.

His wife, Juliette, died aged 91 in 1980.

It's at this point that I'd like to take a moment, to remember the many ethnic lives lost aboard the Titanic. The Third-Class passengers were largely made up of immigrants, hoping to start a better life in the U.S or Canada. They were made up of, among some British and Irish passengers, Scandinavian Immigrants, passengers from Central and Eastern Europe, Lebanon and Syria and other parts of the Middle East, and Hong Kong.

To stop the classes mingling, there were gates and barriers up to keep the Third-Class passengers confined to their area, and in the blind panic to save the rich women and children, many of these gates were never opened, leaving many of the Third-Class passengers to die, confused and alone, with no chance of escape or survival.

Among these Third-Class passengers, was the youngest passenger aboard the Titanic, Milvina Dean, and ironically, it's last remaining survivor before her death on the 31st May 2009. She lived until the tender age of 97. She was one of the first Third-Class passengers to escape.

Milvina Dean in April 1999
Milvina Dean in April 1999

As we all know, many, if not all, of the bodies of those who lost their lives during this tragedy were never recovered.

There are no remaining survivors of the RMS Titanic, but its story will continue to be told countless times. It is my hope, that more will be done to educate people on the many ethnic lives lost during this tragedy, as each and every life aboard that vessel that was lost, matters.


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