68 Years After His Disappearance, Lloyd Gaines Earns the Right to Practice Law in the State of Missouri

In 1935 Lloyd Gaines received a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University, the historically black educational institution in Jefferson City, Missouri. He graduated with honors in history and was elected president of his class. Gaines then set his mind on law school. Missouri and its state university chose to send blacks seeking legal training to a number of other states. But Gaines demanded to be educated in his home state, and specifically at the University of Missouri Law School in Columbia. He applied for admission in 1936. His application was promptly rejected.

After a long legal battle, The U.S. Supreme Court rendered its 6-2 verdict in favor of Gaines and ordered that either the University of Missouri Law School admit Gaines, or, alternatively, the state could build a law school for blacks of equal standing to the University of Missouri.

Missouri established a law school in St. Louis for blacks on a shoestring budget. Gaines and his lawyers prepared to challenge the legality of the so-called separate but equal law school. But when the day came for Gaines to file his deposition before the Supreme Court in October 1939, he disappeared without a trace. To this day, no one has ever discovered what happened to Lloyd Gaines. The last person to set eyes on the law student was a housekeeper who told police that Gaines stepped out to buy some stamps and never returned. It would be another decade after Gaines’ disappearance before an African American was admitted to the University of Missouri School of Law.

Now the state supreme court of Missouri and the state bar association have decided to issue Lloyd Gaines a license to practice law in the state. This spring Gaines received an honorary law degree from the University of Missouri law school.