POLITICS
04/13/2012 04:30 EDT | Updated 06/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Titanic passenger facing discrimination sought better life for family

HALIFAX - Of the 2,200 passengers and crew aboard RMS Titanic, Joseph Laroche would have attracted his share of attention.

He wasn't rich or famous. He was black.

Travelling with his family in Second Class, the 25-year-old is believed to be the only black passenger aboard the White Star luxury liner on its maiden voyage.

Originally from Haiti, Laroche moved to France when his was 15 years old to study engineering, according records compiled by the Titanic Historical Society.

In March 1908, he married Juliette Lafargue, daughter of a white, middle-class French family.

Within two years, the couple had two daughters, Simone and Louise.

But life in France was challenging for the family, mainly because their youngest daughter, Louise, was born prematurely and required expensive medical attention.

As well, Laroche faced discrimination. Though he was able to find work, his employers paid him poorly.

As a result, the couple decided to move to Haiti in 1912. The family — Juliette was pregnant at the time with their third child — boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg, France, on April 10.

"The arrangements could not be more comfortable," Juliette wrote in a letter to her father, delivered before the ship left France.

"We have two bunks in our cabin, and the two babies sleep on a sofa that converts into a bed. If you could see how big this ship is! One can hardly find the way back to one's cabin in the number of corridors."

In the early hours of April 15, Laroche managed to get his wife and children into a lifeboat after the hulking ship hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic and started sinking.

The young woman and two children were rescued by crew aboard the Cunard ship Carpathia, but Laroche's body was never found.