The Lloyd L. Gaines Collection
Lloyd Lionel Gaines was born to the Gaines family in northern Mississippi in 1911. One of eleven children, seven of whom survived illness and accident, he moved with his widowed mother and siblings to St. Louis after the premature death of their father. They found a better, although not easy, life for themselves in Missouri. Gaines excelled in his studies graduating as valedictorian in 1931 from Vashon High School. At Lincoln University in Jefferson City, he graduated with honors and was President of the senior class, while participating in many extra-curricular activities and working to pay for his schooling.
Despite his outstanding scholastic record, the University of Missouri School of Law denied Gaines admittance in 1936 solely on the grounds that Missouri’s Constitution called for “separate education of the races.” By state law, Missouri would have been required to pay for Gaines to attend the Universities in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, but Gaines was determined to fight for the right to attend law school in his own state university. He sought legal assistance from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which had been working systematically to overturn the ignominious precedent of “separate but equal” established in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Together, they challenged the University of Missouri’s admissions policies. In 1938, Gaines won his case before the United States Supreme Court in State of Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada, paving the way for a series of cases that would lead to Brown v. Board of Education’s outlawing segregation in public education. In March 1939, only three months after his Supreme Court victory, Lloyd Gaines was last seen in Chicago. He disappeared at age 28 with his promise of attending law school in Missouri unfilfilled. Lloyd Gaines was never to be seen or heard from again.
This project seeks to illuminate Lloyd Gaines’ life, document his pioneering pursuit of true equal rights to legal education, and memorialize the long overdue, posthumous recognition of his personal sacrifice in the advancement of civil rights. By gathering together primary and secondary source materials pertinent to his life and his case, we hope to tell more of Lloyd Gaines’ story to the world. The University of Missouri Law Library is pleased to make these resources freely available for scholars, researchers and others to advance their knowledge and understanding of the struggle for civil rights in Missouri in the early twentieth century.
Hat Tip: Mary Dudziak