Lloyd Lionel Gaines was a bright and intelligent young man with big dreams of a better future. After the sudden death of his father when Lloyd was only 14, his mother Callie moved her family to St. Louis, Missouri from Mississippi.
Lloyd graduated first in his high school class and even won a $250 scholarship in an essay contest. He enrolled in a teacher’s college but was forced to drop out for lack of money. After getting another scholarship and help from his brothers and black churches, he enrolled at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri where he became president of his senior class, an honors graduate in history and a skilled debater. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in history in 1936, but he really wanted to be a lawyer. At the time, there were only 36 black lawyers in the state of Missouri.
According to a 2009 article in the New York Times, for the 1930s, Missouri’s policy was enlightened: since there was no law school at Lincoln, the state paid the tuitions of blacks from Missouri who went to nearby states to study law. And the Missouri legislature had committed itself to establishing a law school at Lincoln someday, should there ever be enough demand.
In 1936, Lloyd applied for admission to the Law School at University of Missouri, but he was rejected. In April, the university denied his admission on grounds of race, even though he met all of the requirements to get into the school.
Gaines hired lawyer, Charles Hamilton Houston, chief litigator for the N.A.A.C.P., mentor to Thurgood Marshall and later dean of the Howard University Law School, and took their case to court. After the Boone County court and Missouri Supreme Court both ruled in favor of the university, they proceeded to the United States Supreme Court.
Gaines v. Canada was argued on November 9, 1938. It was the most important segregation case since Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).
Houston argued that the state had blatantly failed to meet the “separate but equal” standard and that paying out-of-state tuition for black students from Missouri was not good enough. The court ruled 6 to 2 for Mr. Gaines. “The basic consideration here is not as to what sort of opportunities other states provide, or whether they are as good as those in Missouri, but as to what opportunities Missouri itself furnishes to white students and denies to Negroes solely upon the ground of color,” Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote (The New York Times).
The court’s ruling was delivered on December 12, 1938. Three months later, on March 19, 1939, Lloyd vanished in Chicago, Illinois.
On March 3, 1939, in a letter to his mother, Lloyd stated his reasons for giving up his gas station job in St. Louis and moving to Chicago.
His first reason I found very interesting and could quite possibly be a motive for his disappearance.
“There were illegal “tricks of the trade” being practiced by the company (gas station) that would certaingly (sic) involve me should I have remained there until they were made public. This had to do with the practice of selling a cheap quality gas as “regular” gas and the selling of the “regular” gas as “Ethyl” or the highest priced gasoline. No doubt I was so employed as a “respected and trusted” man to gyp my unsuspecting friends.”
Because of the gas station’s location, it was nearly impossible for the company to profit. Lloyd was held responsible for the company’s inability to clear expenses, even though he had no say in business policies.
After not being able to find another job, Lloyd headed to Chicago for work. He found a room at a YMCA. Lloyd found it difficult to find work but never gave up trying. He paid his rent in full up to March 7th.
On March 19, 1939, Lloyd told his friends he had to get stamps. It was raining and the sidewalks were covered with slush that night. However, he went anyway. Lloyd vanished and has never been seen or heard from again.
His family members never believed he ran off or committed suicide, despite the pressure he had been under. They were convinced he was taken and killed.
In 2006, Lloyd was awarded a law degree by the University of Missouri and that same year, the state bar awarded him a law license, posthumously.
The possibility that Lloyd was murdered because he was black is very likely. He was well known after his Supreme Court case ruling and could have possibly been recognized and killed by a pissed off white person.
To view photos and documents of Lloyd L. Gaines, please click the Lloyd L. Gaines Digital Collection Link below.