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“See You Soon, Darling”: Joseph & Juliette Laroche

"See You Soon, Darling": Joseph & Juliette Laroche

Joseph Phillipe Lemercier Laroche was a gifted engineer from Cap Haiten, Haiti.

He was the only known black passenger on Titanic.

Joseph was 25 years old when he boarded Titanic in Cherbourg, France. He traveled with his two young daughters, Simone and Louise, and his wife Juliette, who was pregnant with their third child.

Joseph Laroche was born in Haiti in 1886. His mother, Euzelie, was 24 years old and a wildly successful business woman who made her substantial wages in trade. She was also a single mother.

Joseph was Euzelie's only child, and she prioritized her son's education. When she was absent and he was not in school, he attended cockfights and won handily in games of marbles with his friends. He was remembered as good-natured, but not particularly talkative.

Time wore on, and Joseph had been sent to study in France at just 15 years old with his teacher, Monsignor Kersuzan, Lord Bishop of Haiti.

And in the course of his studies in France, Joseph made a fateful connection. During an outing to the Parisian suburb of Villejuif, Joseph made friends with another young man named Maurice LeFargue. After a chat, Maurice invited Joseph back to his father's house for some food and drink.

Joseph certainly enjoyed the meal, but took even more pleasure in meeting the person who had prepared it: Maurice's sister, Juliette.

Within minutes, Joseph and Juliette were evidently besotted, and by the end of the meal, they had promised to write each other while he continued his studies a distance away. Soon enough, he was spending weekends with the LeFargues.

Joseph married Juliette on March 18, 1908, when he was 22 years old and she, 19. The ceremony was held at the local church in Villejeuf. At the reception, Joseph led his bride in a dance, and even showed his skills dancing the merengue.

Now a married man, Joseph immediately undertook an intense job hunt. His application was at last accepted by the company Nord-Sud, a company that possessed a contract for the "underground electric railway" being drawn up for Paris.

The Laroche family.


Joseph's first daughter, Simone, was born in 1909, to her parents' joy.

Louise, the younger of their girls, was born in 1910.

Joseph sought higher paying positions to help cover incurred expenses, but despite his familial pedigree, connections, and remarkable resume, he was refused time and again because he was black.

In 1995, Joseph's daughter Louise spoke candidly about her father's experience.

In the only interview she gave in 1995, in which she briefly mentioned the subject, Louise Laroche explained that her father faced "racial prejudice" at that time. "Joseph would find small jobs, but his employers always claimed that he was young and inexperienced, so they could pay him low wages."

From "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche," by Serge Bile. © 2019.

Low on options, Joseph and Juliette decided to move for their fiscal well-being, and were set to return to Haiti in late 1912 or early 1913.

But the timeline became urgent when Juliette found herself pregnant again.

With a job as a math instructor secured for Joseph by his eminent uncle Cincinnatus LeConte, the then-President of Haiti, the LaRoches were gifted tickets on the SS France by Joseph's mother, who was ecstatic that her son and his babies were at last coming home. She had never met her daughter-in-law or her grandchildren.

Joseph and Juliette soon found out, however, that vessel France had strict on-board rules about not allowing children to dine with their parents. The Laroches found this policy unfeasible for their situation--not to mention cold and unnecessary--so they exchanged their tickets for second-class passage on Titanic.

The family would travel from Paris to the port of Cherbourg by a luxury train called the New York Express.

April 10th was a bright day in France, and little Simone Laroche was all aflutter with excitement for the travel ahead.

After breakfast that morning, it is reported that Joseph and Juliette hired two taxicabs--both Renaults AG1s--for transportation to Gare Saint-Lazare, which was less than an hour from their home. Joseph and Simone took the first cab, while Juliette and Louise followed in the second.

Simone was giddy with anticipation upon her family's arrival at the train station, and while her father paid the taxi fare, the elder Laroche daughter ran ahead. Joseph called out and scolded her in Haitian Creole, as was his custom when his children were not behaving. Though Simone did not fully understand the language, she immediately obeyed her father.

At the station, a family friend named Monsieur Renard arrived to see off the Laroches. He brought with him a gift of two balloons--one for Simone, and one for Louise. Although Louise lost hers shaking the string, Monsieur Renard gallantly purchased a replacement.

La Gare Saint-Lazare circa 1910.


The New York Express, exclusively designated for the transport of First- and Second-Class passengers of Titanic, departed at 9:45am.

Once settled on the train, Joseph and Juliette struck up a friendship with a young couple from Canada.

Albert Mallet was an importer of cognac for a liquor firm, and he traveled to Paris often for work; he, his wife Antonine, and their toddler Andre were traveling back to Quebec after a short visit with family. Joseph and Albert chatted the whole way as their wives did the same, and their children played.

The Mallets, as it turned out, had likewise exchanged their tickets on the SS France for passage on Titanic, and for the very same reason that had compelled the Laroches: it simply was not feasible to dine without their children.

And with that, the voyage appeared to have started well. Bound for a ship on which most people would speak only English, the Laroche family had made fast friends with another French-speaking family of similar age.

Juliette wrote a letter to her papa while on board Titanic, which was postmarked from Queenstown, Ireland, on April 11th. It reflected a pleasant time, and Juliette wrote of the ongoing kindnesses of fellow passengers.

The girls ate well last evening. They slept in one stretch the whole night and were awoken by the bells announcing breakfast; those made Louise laugh.

Right now, they are walking on the covered deck with Joseph. Louise is in her small car, and Simone is pushing her. They have already made acquaintances: since Paris, we have traveled with a gentleman and lady and their little boy, who is the same age as Louise. I believe they are the only French on board. So, we sit at the same table and like this we can chat.

Simone amused me earlier; she was playing with an English girl who had lent her a doll. My Simone was having great conversation, but the little girl could not understand anything. People are very nice on board. Yesterday, they were both running after a gentleman who had given them chocolate.

From "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche," by Serge Bile. © 2019.

The couple to whom Juliette referred in her letter were, of course, the Mallets.

It is worth noting that there is little in the way discoverable first-hand accounts regarding racial treatment of the Laroche family while they were on board Titanic.

As a young interracial couple, it is assumed that they must have endured racism to an unquantified degree; their marriage, so full of devotion and strength, was neither commonplace nor socially acceptable by the standards of the era.

And yet, Joseph and Juliette paid this no mind. Their love, and their loving family, were all that mattered to them both. By all accounts, their company was warm, jovial, and accepting, and other passengers delighted in the presence of their sweet little girls.

Simone and Louise Laroche are mentioned, though not by name, in a letter written by fellow Second-Class passenger Kate Buss. "There are two of the finest little Jap[anese] baby girls, about three or four years old, who look like dolls running about."

The racism is there, even in a private letter. The Laroche daughters were not Japanese, but this was not a mistaken assumption on the account of Ms. Buss; it was a generic term of disparagement. At the time, people with not-white complexions were often called "Japanese" or "Italian".

By all accounts, Simone and Louise seemed to be having a gleeful time, but they missed their grandfather. Juliette also wrote the following to her papa.

I am going to stop [writing] because I think we will stop over soon, and I would not like to miss the mail service. Thank you, again, dear Papa, for all your kindness. Please receive the best kisses from your daughter who loves you. Little Simone and Louise send big kisses to their good grandfather. After getting dressed this morning, they wanted to see you.

From "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche," by Serge Bile. © 2019.

April 14th was a Sunday, and the Laroches attended religious services presided over by Father Thomas Byles, a fellow passenger and Roman Catholic priest.

That night, Joseph answered his cabin door to find a steward demanding the family don their life vests and get up on deck with urgency. Joseph woke his wife, and she exited the cabin with Simone in her arms.

Joseph snatched his coat, and stuffed its pockets with their money, jewelry, and paperwork. Then he swaddled tiny Louise inside it, and chased after his wife.

On deck, Joseph gripped Louise in one arm, and clung to an unnamed sailor who was holding men back from entering the lifeboat with the women and children. Joseph, who was fluent in both English and French, somehow managed to secure a spot in for his bewildered wife and their children amidst the chaos.

Some accounts claim that Juliette entered Lifeboat 14. Others believe that it was Lifeboat 8, because Juliette recalled that a countess was in the boat with them, which many suspect was Noel Leslie, the Countess of Rothes.

Juliette recounted the memory with desperate pain.

When the collision happened, there was terrible panic. People were pushing, in a hurry to get off the boat. Suddenly, I felt that they were pulling my older daughter away from me, my little Simone... I saw her thrown to a lifeboat suspended above the abyss. "My child," I yelled. "My child! It is my child that was taken away!"

But right at that instant, I felt someone grabbing me as well. A pair of hands took me, and threw me into emptiness. I found myself in the lifeboat, next to my little Simone, and up there, on the deck, in the middle of the scramble, I glimpsed my husband. Arms extended above the crowd, he was holding our younger girl, whom he was trying to protect against the push. He was struggling against the sailors, showing them the little girl and trying to make them understand that she was separated from me, her mother. At last someone grabbed our little Louise from my husband's hands, and soon she was in my arms.

Then the lifeboat was once and for all lowered onto the sea. I hardly had time to bid my husband a final farewell. I heard his voice, above the rumble, yelling: "See you soon, darling! There will be space for everyone, don't worry, in the lifeboats... Take care of our girls! See you soon!"

From "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche," by Serge Bile. © 2019.

There is no record of Joseph Laroche's last moments.

His body was never recovered.

Survivors on board the rescue ship Carpathia, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


When the Carpathia arrived on scene, the little Laroche girls were hoisted aboard in burlap bags.

Juliette, already surmising Joseph had died, did her best to remain level for the sake of her daughters. For instance, diapers were predictably absent on Carpathia. Juliette discreetly hoarded cloth napkins by sitting on them during mealtime, in order to use them later as makeshift diapers.

The coat that had kept Louise warm--and which Joseph had been present enough to stock with the family's valuables--is reported to have been stolen on board the Carpathia.

The rescue ship Carpathia docked at Pier 54 in New York City, April 18, 1912. George Grantham Bain collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


After the Carpathia docked in New York City, Juliette was transported to St. Vincent's Hospital and treated for her frostbitten feet.

Once she had recovered, Juliette and the girls returned home to France via liner on the morning of May 2, 1912.

According to "Le Matin," the local newspaper, Juliette's father, "an old man in mourning clothes," waited anxiously at the dock for the disembarkment of his bereaved daughter and grandchildren.

When they found each other, Juliette withered in her papa's arms, sobbing.

When Mrs. Laroche and her two daughters appeared on the gangway, the old man ran to them and father and daughter hugged for a long time, teary-eyed. Mrs. Laroche then recounted that at the time of the catastrophe, she and her two little girls had been forced to leave her husband behind. He'd tried to reassure her, affirming that he would be rescued just like her--only a little later. Crying, the poor woman repeated several times: "I believed him! I believed him! Otherwise, I would have never agreed to leave him!"

From "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche," by Serge Bile. © 2019.

On May 24, 1912, Juliette held a memorial service for Joseph in Villejuif. To every mourner, she distributed a card, which had Joseph's photo on it surrounded by a black band.

It read only, "Please pray for the repose of the soul of Joseph Laroche, who passed away on April 15, 1912, in the sinking of the Titanic."

Joseph would have turned 26 only two days later, on May 26.

Juliette gave birth to a boy around Christmastime, 1912; he was named after his late father.

Destitute, heartbroken, and tragically widowed with three children all under the age of 5, Juliette Laroche sued the White Star Line for damages, and was awarded 150,000 francs in 1918--approximately $250,000 today. Juliette used the funds to open a dry-cleaning business operating out of her father's house.

Joseph's mother traveled to France in 1920 to meet her grandchildren at last. Sadly, Juliette never traveled to her late husband's home in Haiti.

Juliette reportedly never spoke of Titanic with anyone except  fellow survivors Antonine Mallet and Edith Russell, the latter of whom she had met in Paris. For a number of years thereafter, Juliette received a small gift from Edith every April 15th, on the anniversary of the sinking.

Edith Russell, fellow Titanic survivor and friend to Juliette LaRoche.


Juliette Laroche never remarried.

She died in 1980 at the age of 90.


Bile, Serge. "Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche." Mango Publishing, 2019.

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