Seventy-two years ago, Lloyd L. Gaines, a black man, was denied admission to MU’s all-white law school because of his race.
After taking the university to the Supreme Court, Gaines was granted admission. However, he never enrolled in the law school, instead disappearing, never to be heard from again.
Tuesday night, Gaines returned to MU symbolically, with the unveiling of his portrait. The portrait, which was painted by Mergareter Gillespie, now hangs in the lobby of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, a building named in Gaines’ honor.
Led by Dr. Dewayne Smith, vice president for academic affairs at Harris-Stowe State University, the unveiling was part of MU’s celebrations commemorating Black History Month.
In front of a crowd of about 35 students and staff, Smith spoke passionately of Gaines’ struggle for academic equality at MU.
He said that Gaines’ case was one of the most overlooked decisions in higher education.
“It changed the face of higher education in America,” he said.
David Mitchell, assistant professor of law at MU, said Gaines was the foot soldier for equality, justice and access.
R. Lawrence Dessem, dean and professor of law at MU, said that Lloyd Gaines is significant to the entire university. However, he holds a special role in the law school because he would have studied law, Dessem said.
The law school is proud to have their own portrait of Gaines hanging on its wall, alongside his honorary law degree and his license to practice law in the state of Missouri, Dessem said.
Last summer, the law school hosted the summer institute of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, the goal of which is to reach out to people of all backgrounds and diversify the legal profession as a whole.
“In the past year, 7 percent of the incoming law students were black, and there were only three black faculty members,” Mitchell said.
Nathan Stevens, director of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, said that Gaines’ struggle is a reminder of how far the community has to go to reach equality for all people.