L LLOYD GAINES - A BLACK ACTIVIST HERO
How Lloyd Gaines’ fight to end segregation at Mizzou in 1930s set a precedent
BY BRIAN BURNES
The Kansas City Star
In 1935, Lloyd Gaines of St. Louis applied to enroll in the University of Missouri School of Law.
Gaines was African-American.
The university’s Board of Curators denied his application. They approved a resolution describing the school’s practice of providing scholarships for black applicants to study in adjacent states if comparable courses were not available at Lincoln University, the state college for African-American students in Jefferson City.
In 1936, a Boone County judge refused to issue an order compelling the university to admit Gaines.
But in 1938, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the university’s out-of-state tuition scholarship practice a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
Gaines had won. Then he vanished.
The complicated legacy of the Gaines litigation is detailed in “Lloyd Gaines and the Fight to End Segregation,” by University of Missouri faculty members James W. Endersby and William T. Horner, just published by the University of Missouri Press.
The story, which the authors believed played a role in changing race relations across Missouri and the country, is bigger than the mystery of whatever happened to Gaines, whose fate has remained unknown since he last was seen in Chicago in 1939.
Still, what happened to Gaines? Some wondered if he had met with foul play.
“What seems most likely is that the pressure of being involved in this landmark case simply became too much to bear,” Horner said. “It is our opinion that he most likely relocated to a life of anonymity, which was much easier to do in the 1930s than it is today.”
Yet even with Gaines’ disappearance, the authors believe the case influenced subsequent litigation that led to the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which declared unconstitutional separate public schools for black and white students.
“While Brown might have happened without Gaines, Gaines certainly set the table and is a key precedent,” Horner said.
“Had Gaines not disappeared, we feel that the Gaines case could have been something very much like the Brown case, though for higher education.”
The authors describe the initial Gaines trial in Columbia. Given the heat in the summer of 1936, the judge and lawyers agreed to work in shirt sleeves. Sometimes drought-ravaged farmers seeking government relief in the Boone County courthouse wandered in, wearing their overalls.
As the authors detail, although much of the litigation took place in Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City residents were key players.
St. Louis lawyers Sidney Redmond and Henry Espy represented Gaines.
Kansas City attorney William Hogsett, who a few years later would coordinate various political factions allied against Kansas City’s Pendergast machine, served as the university’s lead attorney.
The national public relations campaign in support of Gaines’ legal team was coordinated by Roy Wilkins. He was born in St. Louis and had worked as a reporter and columnist for The Call, a Kansas City weekly newspaper for the black community, before leaving to serve in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s national office.
Chester Franklin, Call publisher, championed the Gaines case in his newspaper. When NAACP attorney Charles Houston stopped in Kansas City to meet with Franklin, the publisher asked Houston to address the newspaper staff.
That might have been when Houston met Lucile Bluford, a Call journalist.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Bluford, represented by Houston as well as future U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, applied for admission to the University of Missouri’s graduate journalism program 11 times. The university, the authors write, refused her every time.
“Lucile Bluford’s efforts were important to maintain pressure on the university and the state to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Gaines case,” Endersby said.
Both Houston and Marshall, Endersby added, thought Bluford “was a more reliable plaintiff and had an even stronger case than Gaines.”
The authors will speak April 23 during the Unbound Book Festival in Columbia. Find more information at UnboundBookFestival.com.