Nonwhite first class passenger restrictions

M

Mathew Smith

Guest
I'm interested to know if, at the time of the Titanic, White Star (or, for that matter, Cunard or any of the major lines) had any sort of policies concerning non-white passengers, especially regarding the first-class section. Would someone of African or Asian descent be able to purchase a first class ticket (or even second class?)

I'm doing some research about early 20th C. celebrities of color, and I'm curious about how they got back and forth between Europe and America. Any info would be greatly appreciated.
 
Jan 28, 2003
2,524
5
168
Hi Mathew,
what an interesting question. Bob Godfrey is the man for this sort of thing, I'll see if I can get his attention for you.
I'm no expert, but I have a feeling there was a black passenger in second class, but I may be wrong. If I am, many people will leap in to correct me!
I doubt if they actually had any exclusion policy - the issue probably rarely arose in the early 20th Century. In any case, the Brits were entirely used to some very grand Indians - Maharajahs and so forth - and would certainly have expected them to go first class - if they travelled. Later in the century, I have read that the wonderful Josephine Baker was snubbed by a white actress on board the Normandie, but everyone lese was on Josephine's side, it seems. Paul Robeson travelled to Europe, but that would have been the early 60s. I have a feeling he went by ship (source: Jessica Mitford's "A Fine Old Conflict").
 
Jan 28, 2003
2,524
5
168
Just had another thought, Mathew. It's before the time of your research really, but she had a lasting influence, so may be relevant. Queen Victoria took a tremendous interest in India (being Empress!) and was quite vehement in her condemnation of colour prejudice. She went so far as to appoint an Indian retainer (which annoyed everyone else) to teach her Indian languages and the cultural aspects of the jewel in her crown. I suppose we might find her interest and attitude a bit patronising, but for her time I think it was probably quite forward looking. She got similarly exercised about injustices in Africa.
 
Jul 11, 2001
547
1
146
Speaking of Celebrities being snubbed, I recall an interview with Sammy Davis jr who commented that as popular as he was in Las Vegas in the 1950s, he was asked to enter and exit the Hotel/Casino via the kitchen. Black entertainers had to stay at separate Hotels across town no matter how famous they were.

I can't imagine it was much better 40 years earlier.
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,043
51
208
UK
Certainly there was a black passenger travelling in 2nd Class, the Haitian Joseph Laroche with his (white) French wife and two small daughters. I can think of no means by which Mr Laroche could have been prevented from travelling First Class had he chosen to do so. This is not to say that he would have been socially acceptable to all elements of the First Class clientelle, but as Monica has suggested there were very few 'persons of colour' in Britain at that time and it probably never occurred to anyone to consider a need for any special policies concerning them, or indeed to feel in any way 'threatened' by their presence. A large proportion of the First Class passengers, however, were white Americans, and their attitude might well have been quite different. A black person in 1912 could buy a Rolls-Royce if he had the means to do do, but he wasn't allowed to buy a Cadillac.

The situation was different also in the Colonies, where the European representatives of ruling powers were heavily outnumbered by non-whites and did discriminate against them in many ways, including segregated accommodation and travelling arrangements. We all know what happened to the young Ghandi when he tried to make use of a First Class ticket (provided by his employer) on the South African railways.
 
Jan 10, 2006
28
0
71
Bob:

What of Jim Crow laws in 1912? Surely they would have applied to the Titanic, although registered British she was owned by an American. I think I can recall Win Craig Wade (? Spelling) making mention of these things in his book. Just some thoughts!!

Geoff
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,043
51
208
UK
The segregation policies applied by the British in India, for instance, were Jim Crow laws in all but name, but there was no equivalent legislation at home. And no matter who held the purse strings, Titanic was a British vessel operated by a British-registered company and subject therefore to the operational rulings of the British Board of Trade. US legislation came into play only in areas like immigration controls at the end of the crossing. Wade however stated that 'Jim Crow Laws' guaranteed that no blacks would travel on Titanic. It's not clear whether he was referring to American legislation or perhaps he believed that Britain had similar laws. In any event, if he was right in his statement, then Joseph Laroche was refused admittance and lived happily ever after. If he was wrong, then Laroche lived and died alongside the white passengers on Titanic.
 

Noel F. Jones

Active Member
May 14, 2002
857
0
0
To take first class passage in any British-registered vessel all you needed was the money. I am not aware of any law which could be cited in exclusion. In any case it would not normally become evident what 'color' one was until one showed up alongside.

"The situation was different also in the Colonies, where the European representatives of ruling powers were heavily outnumbered by non-whites and did discriminate against them in many ways, including segregated accommodation and travelling arrangements. We all know what happened to the young Ghandi when he tried to make use of a First Class ticket (provided by his employer) on the South African railways."

and:

"The segregation policies applied by the British in India, for instance, were Jim Crow laws in all but name, but there was no equivalent legislation at home."

The railroad employees who evicted Ghandi from first class accommodation in South Africa would seem to have been acting outside the law, albeit they may have got away with it. To my knowledge, segregation on public transport and in hotels etc. was only ever definitively codified in law during the apartheid era in the Republic of South Africa

In British India there would have been de facto economic segregation but, other than in private clubs etc., I would be interested to learn of any segregation that was ever codified in local law. How would such law have accommodated the many semi-autonomous nawabs, nizams and rajahs, their retinues and families etc. who otherwise were accorded privileged social status if not actual diplomatic immunity?

The children - invariably boys - of such luminaries and rich merchants etc. were sent to attend English public schools wherein they were routinely accorded equality by their peers.

I am not aware that any railroad accommodation in British India was at any time marked "Europeans only" or similar but I am willing to be educated...

Noel
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,582
371
283
Easley South Carolina
>>What of Jim Crow laws in 1912? Surely they would have applied to the Titanic, although registered British she was owned by an American.<<

As I recall, the so-called Jim Crow Laws were made on the state level in the South and certainly would have had no jurisdiction or force on a British registered vessel. At least not a passenger steamer going in and out of New York. Some may find The Jim Crow Laws Website to be of some interest. Additional links may be found courtesy of Google.com HERE.
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,043
51
208
UK
Noel, here's one reliable opinion on the matter of segregation on the railways:

In India every European, be he German, or Pole or Rumanian, is automatically a member of the ruling race. Railway carriages, station retiring rooms, benches in parks, etc are marked 'For Europeans Only'. This is bad enough in South Africa or elsewhere, but to have to put up with it in one's own country is a humiliating and exasperating reminder of one's enslaved condition."
Jawaharlal Nehru - The Discovery of India (1946).

And according to a 1911 issue of the Railway Gazette: The officers and higher employees, even of the independent native State railways, are nearly all Europeans. The stationmaster, the engine driver, and the guards are Europeans ... Each train for passenger service is made up of four classes: First class, second class, intermediate class and third class. The first and second classes are used by Government officials and the wealthy. The intermediate is used by middle class Indians and the poorer Europeans. The third class is used almost exclusively by the Indian travelling public. In both the intermediate and third classes, separate compartments are provided for Europeans and women.

It's notable, I think, that it was the middle and lower grades of accommodation which were segregated. The English aristocracy have always accorded respect to their peers of whatever creed or colour, but sadly there was less acceptance of equality in the middle strata of society. The most deep-rooted prejudice could be found in the attitude of many of the English middle class towards their Indian counterparts who were intruding on what the Europeans regarded as their own territory. So getting back to Joseph Laroche, if he was expecting any prejudice from his fellow travelers, by going 2nd Class he was probably in the right place to find it.
 
May 1, 2004
294
0
86
Did potential passengers need to state their race or religion to the shipping company when booking passage?
I presume that such matters would be on their immigration documents if they were emigrating to North America and that they were allowed to book passage only if they met the quota laws and requirements of the country of destination (ie. that it depended on how many Jews or Germans or Armenians or Chinese the U.S. or Canadian laws permitted, did they have enough money and were they healthy) [In the 1920's, some people had to stay behind for several months because the doctors in England diagnosed them has having infectious diseases. Split families. Must've been scary, especially when only one or two spoke English.]
Anyway, did White Star, Cunard, etc record the race of their passengers, or do interested persons need to apply for the immigration records?
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,043
51
208
UK
On behalf of the UK Board of Trade, the shipping lines collected information which included nationality and country of last permanent residence, but nothing at all about race or religious beliefs. The information required by the American authorities for those arriving on 'immigrant ships' can be seen in this example of a rather untypical arrival on the Carpathia:

Duff-Gordon, Sir Cosmo E
49
M
Married
Gent
Able to read and write: yes, yes
Nationality: Gt. Britain; Race or People: Scotch
Last residence: Scotland, Maryculter - Non Immigrant Alien
Nearest relative: Home, 22 Lenox Gardens, Marycult, London
Final Destination: Scotland, Maryculter
Ticket to final destination: No
Passage paid by: Self
In possession of at least $50.00: all lost at sea
In US before: Yes, 1887, New York
Going to: Ritz Carlton Hotel, New York
Not in prison before; Not a Polygamist; Not an anarchist
Not coming by reason of offer of labor
Health: Good; Deformed: No; Height 6'; Complexion: Fair; Hair: Fair; Eyes: Blue; Marks of identification: -
Born in: England, London

Note that the only information we have concerning Sir Cosmo's beliefs is that he was not into polygamy. And the concept of 'race' differs from the modern interpretation.

The problem of family members being held back at some stage following health checks was experienced by some Titanic passengers. Jamilia and Elias Nicola-Yarred (aged 14 and 11) started their journey from the Lebanon in the company of their father, but at Cherbourg before boarding he was found to be suffering from trachoma. The children boarded Titanic in the care of other families in their travelling group. Both survived and eventually the family were reunited in Florida.
 
May 28, 2001
140
0
146
Given the nature of British imperial snobbery rampant at the time, would Mr Lerouche have been snubbed more on the grounds of being a French colonial, rather than being black ?
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,043
51
208
UK
I doubt it. Historically, the English and the French have rarely been the best of friends but it was (and maybe still is) an element of English snobbery that a knowledge of the French language, cuisine, wines, fashion etc was a means of being one up on the common herd. So Mr Laroche's French accent might well have been a distinct advantage.
 
L

Lesley Jean-Baptiste

Guest
there is a story that states champion boxer Jack Johnson attenpted to buy a 1st class ticket on the titanic but was refused and offered a 2nd or 3rd class option. outraged he didn't take the option and decided to travel 1st class on another ship. guess he got the last laugh. correct me if this story is false
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,043
51
208
UK
This story is best known from the lyrics of Leadbelly's folk song Titanic. If biographers quote the tale at all, it's only as an example of the folklore surrounding the truth of the life of Jack Johnson. He was a victim of prejudice in the land of his birth, but when in Europe he was treated like Royalty. Everywhere he went he was mobbed by crowds who sought to shake his hand, and he was the honoured guest of several of the crowned heads of Europe including King Edward VII. I imagine that the White Star Line would have made good publicity from having such a man aboard.

I've read accounts of ocean voyages in that period in which the occasional presence of less distinguished black passengers in 1st Class was remarked upon as unusual (and it was certainly resented by some) but it was not forbidden. An American newspaper editorial back in 1912 offered one good reason to explain their scarcity: "The Negroes who consider their poverty a curse may find consolation in the fact that they were not wealthy enough to take passage on the Titanic. Every adversity has its virtue."
.
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Apr 11, 2001
4,920
180
193
In April 1912, Jack Johnson was in the USA, trying to organise a fight. This was hard to do, as prizefighting was then illegal in many states. On 18 April he announced that he would fight Jim Flynn in Las Vegas. There was no reason for him to want to sail anywhere.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
0
86
'Would someone of African or Asian descent be able to purchase a first class ticket?'

I've only just discovered this interesting thread so apologies for my (very!) late arrival. It is worth pointing out that Indian maharajahs - often Eton and Oxford educated - were regarded as an exotic novelty in the ballrooms and salons of Edwardian Europe and certainly met with a measure of acceptance in high society. Royalty is royalty, after all, and, had a prince sailed in first-class on the 'Titanic', I've no doubt that he would have been accorded all the privileges and respect suitable to his rank (and would doubtless have been much courted by the social-climbers aboard too!)

I don't know how frequently Indian princes visited the States in the years before the Great War or if they were feted there, as they were in the imperial capital, London. Brian Ahern, having perused the Society columns of the period press, might know a bit more about the subject. I seem to recall that a maharajah occupied one of the plushest first-class suites aboard the 'Normandie' on her maiden voyage in 1935...
 
A

Alyson Jones

Guest
>>'Would someone of African or Asian descent be able to purchase a first class ticket?<<

yes.They were aloud to purchase first class tickets,if they choose too.

England in 1912 had the rule of the white policy. By saying that only white passenger's only boarded on Titanic in England (please correct me if i'm worng) people with Asian decent were excepted in to England in 1900,therefore passenger's of Asian decent first class passengers may board Titanic in England.
People with African decent boarded Titanic in choberg France, France had an African population, where Mr Lerouche and family boarded from.

I would of think there would of been Race hate, just look in todays world, there's race hate every where.Can't see anything being different in 1912.
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,043
51
208
UK
I come from Battersea in South London. In 1913 the mayor of Battersea was John Archer, son of a West Indian father and an Irish mother, and husband of a black Canadian. He was born in Liverpool, which like other British seaports (including London) was home to many immigrants of all colours and creeds. His ethnic background was no barrier to John becoming a local politician and mayor of a London borough, and certainly wouldn't have prevented him from travelling anywhere or any way he chose.