February is Black History Month and, although I myself am not Black, I believe their is importance in knowing history.
The tweet above is, in my opinion, a prime example of why Black History Month is important and why Black History matters, especially Black History that is rarely discussed. In a world where mainstream history tends to overlook the stories of Black individuals it is easy to make assumptions that People of Color were not there to witness events such as the sinking of the Titanic, and due to the ignored presence of said individuals, it is easy to dismiss tragedies that seemingly did not affect one’s own people. Despite Hollywood depictions of centuries past, Black people are everywhere. From the eruption of Vesuvius to Elizabethan England, Black people have been present in history. (On a side note, in the 2015 movie ‘Pompeii’, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje portrays the role of a slave/gladiator but I remember while watching a documentary on the eruption of Vesuvius, a historian pointed out that there is evidence that one of the wealthiest families in Herculaneum, Pompeii’s often overlooked and much more interesting neighbor, was a Black family. Why couldn’t we get a movie about them instead?)
The finely dressed gentleman above is Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche (b. May 26, 1886, d. April 15, 1912) along with his french wife Juliette (1889-1980) and their two daughters, Simonne (1909-1973) and Louise (1910-1998).
Joseph was born in Haiti and had traveled to France at the age of fifteen to study engineering, while in France he met Juliette Lafargue and they were married in March of 1908.
After Louise’s birth, the couple decided to move their growing family to Haiti in order to escape discrimination and provide for their children, especially Louise who had been born prematurely and needed constant care.
In 1912, Juliette discovered she was pregnant once more and the couple decided to bring forward their journey by a year. Joseph’s mother purchased first-class tickets on Le France for them but because of the ship’s strict policies regarding children (they were to be kept separate from their parents, in the nursery, even during dinner), they transferred their tickets for second-class accommodations on board RMS Titanic.
The family boarded RMS Titanic through the Nomadic in Cherbourg on the evening of April 10.
It is believed that Joseph and his family kept to themselves throughout the voyage, he was no doubt a loving father and most likely spent his final days enjoying the company of his wife and two daughters. Any other information about their time on board has been lost to history; due to uninterested historians, no doubt.
On the evening of April 14, the RMS Titanic sideswiped an iceberg approximately 400 miles from shore, and after two hours and forty minutes, sank beneath the surface of the North Atlantic, descending, in pieces, two and a half miles to the ocean floor.
As the lifeboats were being lowered, Joseph made sure his family were safely taken off the ship before dying a heroic death.
When the Carpathia arrived on the scene early the next morning, Simonne and Louise were raised onto the ship in burlap sacks for they were too small to climb the swinging rope ladder that was lowered on the side of the ship.
Upon arriving in New York, alone and with no one to meet her at the dock, Juliette decided to take her daughters back to France. On December 17, 1912, she gave birth to a boy whom she named Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche, Jr.
Years later, in 1918, Juliette successfully sued the White Star Line for 150,000 francs and used the money to set up a business in order to provide for her three children.
In March of 1995, Louise Laroche, now an old woman, stepped on board the Nomadic; the last place where her father Joseph had been before boarding Titanic; for the first time in eighty-five years. She was also present in the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to the passengers that departed from Cherbourg.
History is important, especially history that is not regularly discussed or covered by mainstream media, and in this month it is especially important to remember the many Individuals of Color that, without proper research, we would not know about. Black Lives Matter and Black History Matters. It is everywhere yet it is usually, unfortunately, overlooked. I believe we should all look for the obscure and hidden stories in Black History, especially in this time (not just because its February), and share these stories with others and celebrate the heroic People of Color that are no longer with us.