Monday, April 24, 2017

Two black people on the Titanic in fact and a third in folklore

The Titanic had at least two black passengers, and more if you count one passenger's children.

1. Joseph Laroche's story is told in Was a Black Man on the Titanic? His white wife and their daughters were saved. He was not. Don't blame race for his death—many of the men stayed behind so more of the women and children could survive.

There's some debate about whether the Laroches endured racism on board the ship. From Black People and Titanic: The Reality – Dani Course – Medium:
...a letter that Juliette wrote to her father while the Titanic was at Queenstown, Ireland, paints a different picture. She did not mention any racially motivated incidents directed at her or her family. In fact, she wrote that they had become acquainted with another French family, whom they had traveled from Paris with on the train and dined with onboard the ship. She also wrote that “the people onboard are very nice.” It should be kept in mind, however, that when Juliette Laroche wrote her letter, she and her family had been aboard the ship for less than 24 hours. They would spend four more days at sea — plenty of time to experience the conditions outlined by Hughes and the Inquirer.
The Laroches were well-off; the Medium article includes this:
Initially, the family was to travel on the French liner La France, however the liner’s strict policy required children to remain in the ship’s nursery during meal times, which didn’t appeal to the Laroches. They exchanged their first-class tickets for second-class tickets on the Titanic.
2. Victor Giglio, the personal secretary to Benjamin Guggenheim, traveled first class. It's said the two men chose to die like gentlemen, drinking brandy together. The writer of Titanic Anniversary Sheds Light On Passengers Of Color: Who Were They? suggests Giglio wouldn't have been able to get a place on a lifeboat because of the color of his skin, but since rich white men also couldn't get seats, it's impossible to guess whether class would've trumped race in a choice between a white third-class passenger and a black first-class one.

3. Shine was the Titanic's mythical black crewman. In folk hero fashion, he swam all the way to New York. There's more about him in Was a Black Man on the Titanic?

Bonus historical tidbit: Leadbelly's Titanic song claims the boxer Jack Johnson couldn't get a ticket, which isn't true, but makes for a fine song:



Lead Belly:The Titanic Lyrics | LyricWikia