Lloyd Gaines went missing in 1939, not long after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered MU to admit him to the university’s law school.
Now, almost 70 years later, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People wants the FBI to reopen its investigation into the disappearance of Gaines, who was last seen on his way to buy stamps in Chicago.
Angela Ciccolo, deputy general counsel for the NAACP, told a group of about 140 students at the law school’s 21st annual Lloyd Gaines Scholarship Banquet on Friday that the FBI is reviewing the NAACP’s request. Gaines’ nephew, George Gaines, accompanied by his wife, also attended the banquet.
“I am asking you today to please come forward if you have any information so that we can get the case solved,” Ciccolo said.
Gaines, an honors graduate of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, was denied admittance into the MU School of Law in 1936. Gaines was viewed favorably by the school until university officials found out he was black.
In 1921, Missouri became one of the first states to provide advanced degrees to blacks in the form of grants — what Ciccolo called the Missouri Scheme — a move that other states adopted. Blacks who wanted to attend law school or other graduate school programs were sent to neighboring states that accepted minorities. The education was supposed to be at the state’s expense, Ciccolo said, but expenses were often not paid in full.
“Lloyd Gaines wanted to be a lawyer,” she said. “He didn’t want to have to leave home to do it. He wanted to come here. ...”
A suit against the registrar of the law school and UM curators eventually landed on the Supreme Court’s docket. In the meantime, Ciccolo said, Gaines earned a master’s degree in economics from the University of Michigan. The only job he could get, however, was at a gas filling station.
In 1938, the Supreme Court ordered that Gaines be admitted to MU or be provided access to education at a Missouri institution of equal stature. The case was dropped after he disappeared.
On Feb. 27, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice announced that they would reopen “cold cases” from the Civil Rights era.
“In order to know where you’re going, you really have to know where you’ve been,” Ciccolo said. “I believe if you do not learn from the lessons of history, you’re going to repeat them. And there are some of those lessons I really don’t want to repeat.”
The Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, on the MU campus, was named for Gaines in 2001. He was awarded an honorary law degree from MU and a license to practice law in Missouri in 2006.