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The Life and Story of Joseph Laroche: Titanic's Only Black Passenger

Joseph Phillipe Lemercier Laroche (1889-1912). Picture credit: Courtesy W. Mae Kent, Public domain image.

The Titanic is probably the most famous ship in history and was known as the “Ship of Dreams”. With its supreme size, extraordinary amenities, and lavish accommodations for its first, second, and even third-class passengers, it’s no wonder why this floating palace is still talked about to this very day.

Titanic leaving on Maiden Voyage. Photo credit: Worldweb.

When Titanic set sail on its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912, she carried the lives of 2,208 passengers and crew onboard, many of whom were dignitaries, high-ranking officials, and celebrities - all who had various reasons for traveling to America.

Unfortunately, for many of them, their lives would be lost in the North Atlantic Ocean when the large vessel struck an iceberg and sank under the freezing waters on April 14, 1912.

Pictured Joseph Laroche with his wife and two daughters. Photo credit/ W.M. Kent.

Joseph Laroche, a Haitian-born engineer, was one of the passengers on board Titanic and who lost his life on that fateful night. He was traveling back to Haiti with his pregnant French wife, Juliette Le Fargue, and their two young daughters, Simone and Louise, from France to secure himself a better paying job. His uncle, the 21st President of Haiti, had purchased the Laroche family tickets for the SS France, but the ship had strict dining guidelines which prevented young children from eating with their parents, so Joseph exchanged the tickets to sail second-class on the Titanic

The family enjoyed the voyage dining with a French family while the young girls made friends with an English-speaking girl of the same age, even though they could not understand each other.

Shortly after the ship struck the iceberg, the Laroche family were ordered up on deck where Juliette, Simone, and Louise were all put into a lifeboat without any time to say goodbye to Joseph.

As the boat was lowered, Joseph yelled to his wife, “Take care of our girls! See you soon!”

Juliette later said, “I believed him! Otherwise, I would have never agreed to leave him!”

With no one to meet her in Haiti, she and the girls returned to France a few weeks later and Juliette held a service for her beloved husband; Their precious son, Joseph Jr., was born on December 17, 1912.

Louise Laroche, second daughter of Joseph Laroche, pictured in Cherbourg (1995) at a Titanic Memorial site. Photo credit/C.Hamlin.

Louise Laroche, the second eldest daughter and who was born prematurely on July 2, 1910, died on January 28, 1998, at the age of 87. At the time of her death, there were only six Titanic survivors who remained.

On July 18, 2003, a three-act opera based on Laroche’s life called Larouche, premiered at the Callonwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia for the National Black Arts Festival. It was composed by Dr. Sharon J. Willis.

I have followed the story of Titanic since I was a young child. I remember when the wreckage was found and watched the special live televised program of the opening of a recovered safe. Over the years, I had heard all the stories of the rich and famous who were on board the ship, but I never knew there was a person of African decent who was on board as well. I was overjoyed to learn about Joseph Laroche and to hear about his story, as well as, the story of his young wife and two girls.

So many lives were lost in the early hours on April 15, 1912. May we never forget those lost souls but always remember that they had lives, ambitions, and dreams just like the rest of us that were shattered on a cold night when the ship of dreams struck an iceberg and sank deep below the depths of the cold North Atlantic Ocean.


1. Hall, G. (2023). RMS Titanic, 27.

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