How Lloyd Gaines helped future generations attend law school

In 1935, Lloyd Gaines graduated from Lincoln University in Jefferson City. Wanting to become a lawyer, he applied to the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. Although Gaines was qualified to go to law school, the University of Missouri would not allow him to attend because he was African-American. Since there were no law schools for black students in Missouri, the university said he would have to attend in another state. Gaines asked the United States Supreme Court to order the University of Missouri to allow him into its law school. Gaines was represented by Charles Hamilton Houston, chief attorney for the National Association of Colored People (NAACP), who was later known as “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow” for his legal challenges to end segregation in American schools. Hamilton argued the University of Missouri must admit Gaines or, under the “separate but equal” standard created in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson, the State of Missouri must build a new law school for African Americans in order to provide access to education at an institution of equal stature within the state.

On Dec. 12, 1938, the court decided 6-2 in favor of Gaines in Gaines v. Canada, saying that it was unfair and against the law not to let Gaines into the University of Missouri Law School because there was no other place in Missouri for him to go to school. Before Gaines could attend law school, he traveled to Chicago, where he disappeared at the age of 28 and has never been seen or heard from again.

Although Gaines did not fulfill his dream of attending law school in Missouri, his challenge to the status quo brought greater equality to minority student access to educational opportunities for the thousands of diverse students who have since attended and graduated from law schools across the nation. Nearly 80 years after this decision, the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education & Admissions to the Bar reports that minority enrollment is 28.5 percent of the 2013-14 total law school enrollment in America.

Because of this legacy, in 2006, the University of Missouri-Columbia conferred upon him a posthumous law degree. He also was named an honorary member of The Missouri Bar in the same year.

To see a full collection of historical materials related to Lloyd Gaines and the landmark decision in his case, go to

See Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938)

Leave a Reply

Back to Top