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Wed, 12.20.1911

Lloyd Gaines, Law Student born.

Lloyd Gaines

*The birth of Lloyd Gaines is celebrated on this date in 1911. He was a Black law student and racial segregation plaintiff.

Born in Water Valley, Mississippi, Lloyd Lionel Gaines moved with his mother and siblings to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1926 after the death of their father. Part of the Great Migration from rural communities in the South to industrial cities in the North, his family settled in the Central West End neighborhood. Gaines was a valedictorian at Vashon High School. After winning a $250 ($4,000 in current dollars) scholarship in an essay contest, Gaines went to college.

He graduated with honors and a bachelor's degree in history from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. He sold magazines on the street to cover the gap between his scholarship and the college's tuition. Gaines was president of the senior class and a brother in the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. After being denied admission to the University of Missouri School of Law because he was Black and refusing the university's offer to pay for him to attend a neighboring state's law school that had no racial restriction, Gaines filed suit as the plaintiff in Gaines v. Canada (1938), one of the most important early court cases in the 20th-century U.S. civil rights movement.

The U.S. Supreme Court 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 black students. The Missouri General Assembly chose the latter option. It authorized the conversion of a former cosmetology school in St. Louis to establish the Lincoln University School of Law, to which other, mostly black, students were admitted. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which had supported Gaines's suit, planned to file another one challenging the adequacy of the new law school.

While waiting for classes to begin, Gaines traveled between St. Louis, Kansas City, and Chicago looking for work. He worked odd jobs and gave speeches before local NAACP chapters. On March 19, 1939, in Chicago, he left the fraternity house where he was staying to buy stamps and never returned. He was never seen again by anyone who knew or recognized him and reported doing so. Gaines's disappearance was not noted immediately since he frequently traveled independently and alone, without telling anyone his plans.

Only in late 1939, when the NAACP's lawyers could not 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 killed in retaliation for his legal victory, there has been speculation that Gaines had tired of his role in the movement and gone elsewhere to start a new life. In 2007, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agreed to investigate the case, among many other missing persons cold cases related to the 20th-century American Civil Rights movement.

His unknown fate notwithstanding, 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 scholarship at its law school are named for him and another black student who was initially denied admission. In 2006, Gaines was posthumously granted an honorary law degree. The state bar granted him a posthumous law license. A portrait of Gaines hangs in the University of Missouri Law School building.

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