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Stars can help remember Titanic’s only black victim

TITANIC’S Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, singer Celine Dion and director James Cameron supported a 2009 request by Irish author Don Mullan to financially support the last survivor of the sinking.On the centenary of the ship’s maiden voyage he has written to them again — with a new humanitarian plea

Dear James Cameron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Celine Dion and the powerful companies you are associated with:

ONE hundred years ago the Titanic was undertaking its maiden and tragic voyage. Three years ago you very kindly joined me in supporting 97-year-old Millvina Dean, Titanic’s youngest passenger and the last living survivor of the tragedy, who was then trying to pay her private nursing home bills through the sale of her autograph.

It seemed immoral that the last human being associated with the tragedy was, literally, drowning in debt when her own tragic history was part of a story that had generated enormous profits. I am writing now, on the 100th anniversary, to ask for your support again, now that your movie has been re-released to mark the centenary of the tragedy.

I am asking you to support me in honouring the memory of the only black man on the ship, who perished on the night of 15 April 1912: Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche, from Haiti. Joseph Laroche was the nephew of the then president of Haiti, Cincinnatus Leconte. He graduated as an engineer in Paris but had difficulty in finding work because he was black. Consequently, he was returning to his native Haiti with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughters Simonne and Louise, boarding Titanic at Cherbourg, as second-class passengers.

They had originally been booked as first-class passengers on the liner, La France, but because of the company’s strict policy of refusing children access to the dining quarters, they switched ships. Like Millvina’s father, Bertram Dean, Joseph Laroche realised quickly that Titanic was in trouble shortly after it hit the iceberg on the night of April 14 1912.

He roused his wife and together they carried Simonne and Louise on deck where he managed to get all three on to a lifeboat. Both Bertram Dean and Joseph Laroche perished with the ship and their bodies were never found. I am currently helping the Irish humanitarian organisation HAVEN to build 10,000 homes for the people of Haiti before the end of 2014. Through HAVEN (www.havenpartnership.com), Irish builders, from Belfast to Cobh, Britain and the USA, are building homes for Haiti. We have already built 2,200 homes since the 2010 earthquake.

I am writing to ask you to match the Irish and world public, euro for euro, up to €5m, from profits realised from the re-release of Titanic the movie. With €5m we can build 1,000 homes in Haiti (at a cost of €5,000 per home). Hopefully with your help and the worldwide public, we can double that, and reach towards the halfway point of our overall target of 10,000 homes. On the week of May 7-11 2012, almost 50 Irish, British and American builders, including myself, will travel to Haiti to help with the building project.

You would be most welcome to join us. It is a sad fact that Haiti is currently the poorest country in the Western world. Haiti, however, is a country deserving of human solidarity in recognition of its extraordinary history. It was the first Black Republic and the nation that set ablaze the torch of freedom that led to the ending of slavery worldwide.

Haiti’s poverty was imposed by powerful nations whose economies were being fuelled by slavery. As such, Haiti deserves our admiration and determined support to help it rebuild. In remembering the past, let us not forget the present and future. Joseph Laroche was a black man who still suffered racial prejudice and whose presence on the Titanic was largely due to the fact that racism forced him to leave France and return to Haiti for work.

What greater memorial could we raise to the memory of Joseph Laroche — a heroic family man — than to provide a secure and dignified home for at least 1,000 Haitian families? Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your response.

Yours respectfully, Don Mullan

Don Mullan is an award-winning author and producer, whose book Eyewitness Bloody Sunday led to the Saville Inquiry