Lloyd Gaines

Lloyd Gaines
Gaines (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

1911 – unknown 

Sixteen years before the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education ended legal segregation in schools, Lloyd Gaines fought a court battle to attend the University of Missouri. Gaines was born in Oxford, Mississippi, but moved with his family to St. Louis at age 14. He was valedictorian of his high school class and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from Lincoln University. 

In 1935, Gaines applied for admission to the University of Missouri Law School but was denied because of his race. With the aid of the NAACP, he sued the university to admit him. After the county court and Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of the university, his case was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6–2 decision, the court ruled that either Gaines be admitted or a separate law school for African Americans be established. Following the decision, Gaines traveled to Chicago and was staying at a fraternity house when, on March 19, 1939, he left to run an errand and was never heard from again. While Gaines never realized his dream of studying law at the University of Missouri, his case established the principle of “equality of education” and influenced other legislation leading up to school desegregation.