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By Robert Brizel, Head RCM Boxing Correspondent
On April 15, 1912, The British passenger liner Titanic sunk in the North Atlantic Ocean after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. The largest ship afloat at the time, an even greater legend still persists, over 102 years after The Titanic went to the bottom.
Was Jack Johnson and his wife denied passage by the captain of The Titanic because he was spotted trying to board the great ship as a black man? This rumor has persisted for over a century in historical controversy, and the rumor should be laid to rest on Real Combat Media, once and for all.
For the record, The Galveston Giant, The Heavyweight Champion of the World, Jack Johnson, was in the United States when The Titanic left Southampton for New York City. The false rumors started when the great folk singer Leadbelly sang his early version of a song called ‘Titanic’ with verse which went as follows:
The key to Leadbelly’s legend was it reinforced what many African Americans already felt. Even Jack Johnson, a fighter who in 1912 represented the race like no other, had been snubbed as just another piece of coal, so that they as a people were justified in laughing last when The Titanic went down.
Johnson, with three white wives, wild spending, and flamboyant behavior, kept him on the front of newspapers his entire lifetime. The character and importance of many of the souls who went down with The Titanic were of importance to the American white establishment. Statements which referred to the character and importance of the first class white passengers on The Titanic dared African Americans to insert themselves into the Titanic narrative. Johnson fit the narrative black folks needed to trash public sympathy for the Titanic victims. Johnson could have afforded to sail on The Titanic, he was as famous as any other man on board, but he was black. Though the tall tales were a far stretch, it did not take long before the two separate new stories-The Titanic and Jack Johnson-became one.
Jack Johnson and The Titanic was a sensationalized piece of fiction news story which was improvised to put a black face on the absurd Jim Crow laws reinforcing the American racial divide over a century ago. Captain Edward Smith never met Jack Johnson, never saw Jack Johnson, and never refused him passage.
Black Haitian engineer Joseph LaRoche, his pregnant white wife and two children were on The Titanic in the Second Class section. LaRoche was presumed to be French, not black, because of his last name. LaRoche went down with Titanic and died at age 25, after putting his wife and two children on a lifeboat. They survived. LaRoche had purchased First Class passage on the SS France, but switched to Titanic after learning his children would not be allowed to dine with him aboard the SS Frances.
Jack Johnson’s wife at the time Titanic went down was Brooklyn socialite Etta Duryea, who later committed suicide in September 1912. She was the second of Johnson’s four known wives. Johnson’s other wives were Mary Austin, Lucille Cameron, and Irene Pineau. The Titanic story surrounding Jack Johnson overshadowed even the death of his wife, though. The false rumors of Johnson denied passage on the Titanic persist to this day.
Civil Rights had nothing to do with Titanic. American dollars and British pounds did. The class of passage on the Titanic you got was strictly a matter of cash. The wealthiest traveled in First Class, including politicians, bankers, industrialists and professional athletes. Second class passengers included themiddle class, professors, clergy, authors and tourists. Steerage or Third Class passengers were primarily European immigrants heading to the United States and Canada. Racism affected the lifeboats, as few Third Class passengers were allowed to board the lifeboats and most ultimately drowned.