Did a Black Woman Named Malinda Borden Perish Because Titanic’s Lifeboats Were ‘Whites Only?’

Gender, age, and class certainly played a factor in who secured lifeboat seats on the Titanic.

  • Published 28 February 2019

Claim

A photograph shows a black woman named Malinda Borden who was denied a spot in a lifeboat on the Titanic because she was black.

Rating

Origin

A photograph purportedly showing a woman named “Malinda Borden” is frequently shared on social media along with the claim that she had worked aboard the RMS Titanic and drowned at sea when that ship sank on its maiden voyage, as lifeboat seats were only made available to white passengers. Her name, according to the viral Facebook post, was nearly lost to history because the black workers who perished during the disaster were listed as property that was lost, rather than being included in the list of victims:

TITANIC VICTIM MALINDA BORDEN was drowned at sea as she was working aboard the Titanic. Life boats were made available to WHITE women and WHITE children ONLY. The Black workers were not listed among the passengers or victims. They were only listed among property that was lost. #BlackHistoryicon

This claim has been working its way online since at least 2016. While we have been unable to determine the specific origins of this photograph, we can say that this Facebook post does not relay an authentic story about the Titanic tragedy.

A number of the details in the post are contradicted by what we know about the event. For example, the post suggests that a number of the workers aboard the Titanic were black, and that they were prevented from boarding lifeboats due to their race. However, that simply wasn’t the case: black persons were nearly entirely absent from the ship, either as passengers or crew, due to racial discrimination laws of that era.

The Solid Rock Herald, an “afro-American press” outlet, noted in their condolences after the Titanic‘s sinking that it could be “safely calculated that no member of the colored race lost their lives in this awful catastrophe owing to certain conditions over which we have no control”:

We were unable to find any record of a black person working among the crew of the Titanic, let alone a black woman. Only two dozen women were among the Titanic‘s crew of 900, none of them named Malinda Borden. Apparently the liner also had only one black passenger, a man named Joseph Phillippe Lemercier Laroche.

The Haitian-born Laroche, his wife, Juliette, and their two children, Simonne and Louise, were second-class passengers aboard the Titanic when it sank in April 1912 after hitting an iceberg. Juliette and the children survived the ordeal, but Joseph was among the over 1,500 people who died:

While this Facebook post would lead us to believe that Laroche’s name was listed among the “property” lost, Laroche and his family were in fact listed as missing persons in a report published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle the morning after the sinking:

The following is a list of those not accounted for. It is an elimination of the passengers reported saved. The record has been compiled with the greatest care. Owing to the confusion in the transmission by wireless of the names of the survivors, it is expected that some errors have been made. Many of those in this list of not accounted for will doubtless be reported saved later.

Tue, Apr 16, 1912 – Page 2 · The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, Kings, New York) · Newspapers.com

We should note that Laroche was not a slave, but an engineer returning to his home country of Haiti in search of a better job to provide for his family.

While racial discrimination was certainly prevalent in the early 1900s, it’s inaccurate to say that black people aboard the Titanic were denied spots on the lifeboats specifically due to their race — largely because of the absence of black passengers on the ship in the first place. Furthermore, contemporaneous news articles document that the one black passenger who died during the disaster was indeed listed among the victims and not, as suggested by the viral Facebook post, as “lost property.”

The viral photograph does not appear to show any identifiable passenger or crew member who was aboard the Titanic. We could not find the name “Malinda Borden” among any of the available passenger or crew lists, and the Titanic Historical Society mentioned only the Laroche family when discussing black persons who were aboard the ship.

It appears that this photograph is entirely unrelated to the Titanic, and that its accompanying back story was made up.

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