Lloyd L. Gaines

Lloyd L. Gaines

Lloyd Lionel Gaines (1911, Water Valley, Mississippi – disappeared March 19, 1939, Chicago) was the plaintiff in Gaines v. Canada (1938), one of the most important court cases in the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1930s. After being denied admission to the University of Missouri School of Law because he was African American, and refusing the university's offer to pay for him to attend another neighboring state's law school with no racial restriction, he filed suit. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favor, holding that the separate but equal doctrine required that Missouri either admit him or set up a separate law school for African American students.

The Missouri General Assembly chose the latter option, converting a former cosmetology school in St. Louis to the Lincoln University School of Law and other mostly African-American students were admitted to it. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which had supported Gaines' suit, planned to file another suit challenging the adequacy of the new law school. While he waited for classes to begin, Gaines traveled between St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago looking for work, doing odd jobs and giving speeches before local NAACP chapters. One night in Chicago he left the fraternity house where he was staying to buy stamps and never returned.

His disappearance was not noted immediately, since he would frequently travel on his own for long periods of time without informing anyone. Only in the autumn of that year, when the NAACP's lawyers were unable to locate him to take depositions for a rehearing in state court, did a serious search begin. It failed, and the suit was dismissed. While most of his family believed at the time that he had been murdered in retaliation for his legal victory, there has been some speculation that he had tired of his role in the civil rights movement and simply went elsewhere, either New York or Mexico City, to start a new life. In 2007 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agreed to look into the case, among many other unsolved missing persons cases related to the civil rights era.

Despite his unknown fate, Gaines has been honored by the University of Missouri School of Law and the state. The Black Culture Center at the University of Missouri and a law scholarship at the law school are named for him and another African American student initially denied admission, and in 2006 he was granted an honorary law degree. The state bar association followed with a posthumous law license. A portrait of Gaines hangs in the University of Missouri law school building.

Read more about Lloyd L. Gaines:  Early Life, Lawsuit, Disappearance, Aftermath, Investigations, Legacy and Honors

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