Haiti History 101: The Haitian Family on the Titanic

Must Haitians be everywhere?

Now you know the answer is going to be a resounding yes!

Today’s edition of Haiti History 101 takes us to the Titanic.

Yes, that boat, and Haitians were on it.

More specifically Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche and his family! Joseph Phillipe was born in the city of Cap Haitien, Haiti, on May 26, 1886. He must have been quite a child prodigy, and must have been born in a very wealthy family in Haiti, because at the tender age of 15, he left his family in Haiti (accompanied by Monsegnieur Kersuzan, the archbishop of Haiti) to go study engineering in France in northern region of Picardie. At least one source says that Joseph Phillipe was related to Dessalines M. Cincinnatus Leconte, who himself was a descendant of Haitian founding father Jean-Jacques Dessalines .

It was while there scholars say, that he met the Juliette Marie Louise Lafargue, in Villejuif, a few miles from Beauvais where he was studying. Upon finishing his studies, the two married in March 1908. Joseph Philippe worked for the Paris Metro line (France’s biggest transportation system, which functions even in our day) for a time, but apparently because of the rampant racism at the time, he wasn’t able to find a stable job. The financial difficulties of the family (Simonne Marie Andrée Anne, born on February 19, 1909, and Marie Louise, on July 2, 1910), led Joseph Philippe and Juliette Marie Louise to move back to the latter’s widowed father’s house. A new pregnancy made up Joseph Philippe’s mind about returning to Haiti, where he felt his growing family’s quality of life would be than in France.

Joseph’s mother in Haiti brought the family tickets on the ship La France, but that ship liner had a strict policy on children of passengers, and with Marie Louise needing constant attention because of her medical problems (she was born prematurely), Joseph Philippe chose to transfer his tickets for second class tickets on the RMS Titanic ship. They from Paris to Cherbourg, where they boarded the ship, with the intention of boarding in New York, from where they would be well on their way to Haiti.

As an interracial couple, the two experienced a lot of harassment and taunts from the crew and passengers, so much so that The White Star Line, the company that owned the RSM Titanic, had to issue a public apology later for the behavior of their crew and passengers towards the Lemercier Laroche family.

The RSM Titanic sank on the night of April 10, 1912; though Juliette Marie Louise and her daughters were saved by Joseph Philippe and placed on , he was not. According to an interview Juliette Louise gave to the French newspaper Le Matin upon her return to Paris, her husband’s (translated in English) were: ” – I’ll see you soon, my darling! … There’ll be room for everyone, go with the lifeboats, … Look after our little girls … See you soon!”

Joseph Philippe’s body was never recovered from the Atlantic Ocean.

In May 1912, the town of Villejuif joined Juliette and her daughters in a for Joseph Phillipe. Seven months later, Juliette Marie Louise gave birth to a son, Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche, Jr, born on December 17, 1912 in France. In 1918, as survivors of the boat, the family was in a lawsuit Juliette Marie Louise filed (encouraged by her father) against the ship line for her losses.

It would be decades before the existence of a black family on the Titanic would be acknowledged, which was strange because when Juliette Marie Louise died in 1980, mention of her husband having been on the RSM Titanic was engraved on her tomb. In 1995, Marie Louise their daughter gave an to the Titanic Historical Society in 1995, three years before the Titanic film was released. It wasn’t until Ebony Magazine wrote an article on Joseph Philippe and his family that their story became common knowledge.

Marie-Louise Philippe, the sickly one, ironically outlived her other siblings Simonne and Joseph Philippe Jr., who died in 1973 and 1987, respectively; she died in 1998, the same year the movie made about the most traumatic experience of her family’s life was a hit in theaters.

 

 

Last Updated on February 4, 2023 by kreyolicious

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