Black Titanic Passenger Has Chicago Kinship

Christine LeBrun’s ancestor is believed to be the only black man on the ship's maiden voyage

April 15th marks the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking in the Atlantic.

The anniversary holds special meaning for Palatine's Christine LeBrun, whose ancestor is believed to be the only black man on the ship's maiden voyage. But according to LeBrun, 35, this detail is still generally disregarded, despite the numerous duplicated narratives.

LeBrun, an alumni relations director for a Catholic high school, was sitting with her uncle Robert’s wife in a hair salon in 2000 when her ancestry began to unfold.  Her aunt, flipping through a magazine, spotted a photo, integrated in an article about an exhibit on the Titanic that had opened at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.  The image struck her because it reminded her of her husband.

That man happened to be Joseph Laroche, a Haitian-born, French-educated engineer, with his pregnant wife, Juliette, 22, and their two daughters.

LeBrun’s aunt and showed the photograph to her husband, Robert Richard, who quickly recognized the last name.  Richard’s daughter, Marjorie Alberts, began conducting research.
In search for a job, Laroche decided to move his family of four from France to Haiti.  His mother had sent the family first-class tickets to travel on the French liner France, but upon discovering that they wouldn’t be allowed to dine with their children, they traded their tickets for second-class tickets on the Titanic. 

On the evening of April 10, 1912, geared with the prospects the future had to offer, the family stepped on board the Titanic at Cherbourg, France. 

Four nights later, Laroche was in the smoking parlor when he felt the ship hit the iceberg.  He ran to his family, placing them safely into a lifeboat and parting with a promise to meet them in New York. 

Laroche was unable to keep his promise, however, as he did not survive and his body was never found. 

After uncovering the mystery of their pasts, both cousins are in agreement: while James Cameron’s fictionalized account of the shipwreck is romantic, it’s just not complete without the tale of their beloved ancestor.  

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