March 19th, 1939

Lloyd Gaines Disappears After Court Orders him Admitted to University of Missouri Law School

After graduating from the historically black Lincoln University in 1935, Lloyd Gaines applied for admission to the all-white University of Missouri School of Law, the only law school in the state. The University of Missouri rejected Mr. Gaines's application in March 1936 and offered to subsidize his tuition at an historically black law school or a non-segregated law school in another state.

With the NAACP's support, Mr. Gaines rejected the offer and sued the University of Missouri for admission. He lost in the circuit court and Missouri Supreme Court and appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court. In December 1938, the Court ruled in Mr. Gaines's favor and ordered the University of Missouri to accept him to its law school or create an in-state law school for African Americans. The Missouri legislature responded by hastily establishing a separate, unequal law school for African Americans. In October 1939, the NAACP prepared to take legal action to protest the state's actions, only to find that Mr. Gaines was missing. A housekeeper at Mr. Gaines's Chicago residence reported last seeing him on March 19, 1939. He was never seen again.

Family members suspected that Mr. Gaines was abducted and murdered for his activism; others speculated he fled and assumed another identity in response to threats against him and his loved ones. To this day, Mr. Gaines's fate is unknown. Without a plaintiff, the desegregation lawsuit against the University of Missouri was dismissed. It would be another decade before the school would admit its first African American student.