NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

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April 4, 2012

Titanic's sinking began world's fascination with disasters

(Continued)

"It's quite often the case that the less privileged suffer disproportionately in disasters," Biel said. "That was certainly true in the case of Titanic."

And it happened again most noticeably in Hurricane Katrina, when the predominantly black sections of the city seemed to suffer more, with less government help, Biel said.

In the first few decades after the Titanic, the disparity in survival of the third-class passengers wasn't mentioned. It wasn't until Walter Lord revived the tale of the Titanic in his best-selling book "A Night To Remember" that the issue of class fairness was revisited, Biel said. And by the time Cameron's movie came out in the 1990s, the story had gone from the helpful rich to the mostly despicable first-class passengers.

Biel said no blacks were aboard the Titanic, although others claim there was one black family. Blues pioneer Leadbelly sang of how black boxing champ Jack Johnson was denied passage on the ship: "Black men oughta shout for you, Never lost a girl or either a boy. Cryin' fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well."

It was not the first or last song about the sinking — and in fact, one of the enduring story lines of the Titanic is about music. The band on Titanic did play as the ship went down. Experts disagree on the song, but they agree that there was a soundtrack to the disaster.

Survivor Archibald Gracie, in his popular account, described the lowering of lifeboats into the water with women and children, saying "it was now that the band began to play and continued while the boats were being lowered. We considered this a wise provision tending to allay excitement. I did not recognize any of the tunes, but I know they were cheerful and not hymns."

And the band played on.

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