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Joseph Laroche and the Legacy of RMS Titanic

As a result of deeper research into Laroche’s life and tragic death, more works have been released about his story. From professors to musicians to authors, Laroche has emerged as an important figure with respect to the legacy of Titanic‘s dominant white narrative and fatal anti-blackness. 

Serge Bilé, an Ivorian-French author, wrote Black Man on the Titanic: The Story of Joseph Laroche, published by Mango Publishing Group in late 2019. The book takes information from research and constructs it in narrative style to retell the stories of Laroche’s life and the family’s boarding of the ship. Sprinkled throughout the text are pictures as well. Bilé investigated in both Haiti, the country of Laroche’s birth, and France, where Laroche went to study and met his wife.

As for music, LaRoche, a three act opera by Atlanta artist Sharon J. Willis, was featured in the 2003 National Black Arts Festival.

Dr. Kellie Carter Jackson, the Knafel Assistant Professor of the Humanities in the Department of Africana Studies at Wellesley, did a presentation in early 2020 regarding her research into Laroche’s life and fateful encounter with Titanic. In her lecture, she argues anti-blackness drove Laroche to the Titanic. As anti-blackness in French society prevented him from social and economic mobility, he boarded the vessel during his journey back home after receiving a job offer from his uncle. In his attempt to return to Haiti for greater opportunity and a home in which he would not be discriminated against, he boarded the doomed ship.

Though Laroche’s story has been researched in more depth than it has in the past, many people still do not know his story; there is not much on it within the domain of mainstream popular culture. As suggested by Professor Carter Jackson and Zondra Hughes, a playwright who reviewed Bilé’s book, had James Cameron’s infamous film featured Joseph Laroche and Juliette Lafargue in the main roles, then it would be not only accurate but significant in recognizing the true stories that challenge the assumptions perpetuated by such media regarding the ship. Laroche’s story challenges the dominant white narrative around Titanic‘s legacy as a behemoth meant to symbolically laud white wealth in the ship’s extravagant design and testifies to the blocked socioeconomic mobility impacting black people from Haiti and other former colonies who lived in France during his lifetime.

Posted on June 4, 2021 in Productions