Black History Moment

On this day, 105 years ago, 25-year-old Joseph Phillippe LeMercier Laroache (the only black passenger) died in the Titanic sinking. Joseph was on board with his pregnant wife Juliette and their two young daughters. The story of this interracial family did not become widely known until three years after the movie’s release, when the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry and the Titanic Historical Society featured the information as part of a Titanic exhibit.

Joseph Laroche was born in Haiti in 1889 into a powerful family — his uncle, Dessalines M. Cincinnatus Leconte, was the president of Haiti. When he was fifteen, Joseph Laroche left Haiti to study engineering in Beauvais, France. Several years later, he met Juliette Lafargue, the 22-year-old daughter of a local wine seller. The two eventually married. Despite having an engineering degree, Joseph’s skin color left him unable to find employment in France. The Laroches decided to return to Haiti and booked second-class reservations on the Titanic. After the ship struck an iceberg, Joseph loaded his wife and two daughters Simonne (age 3) and Louise (age 1) onto Lifeboat 14 and he went down with the ship. His body was never recovered.

Shortly before Christmas of that year, Juliette Laroche gave birth to their son, Joseph Laroche Jr. Juliette never remarried. Juliette died in 1980 at age 90 in Paris. Joseph’s oldest daughter Simmone died in 1973 at age 64 in Paris. She was never married. His youngest daughter Louise died in 1998 at 87 in Paris. She was never married. Joseph LeMercier Laroche, Jr., born seven months after his father died in the Titanic sinking, married Claudine Laroache. He died in 1987 at age 74. She and Joseph had several children who are the only living descendants of this family.

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