The history of school desegregation in the United States did not start with the well-known 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education. A legal precedent had been set years earlier in a case involving Columbia, Missouri. In 1938, the Court issued a landmark ruling stating that the University of Missouri Law School could not deny a student admission based on race. The student in question was Lloyd Gaines, a Lincoln University graduate who met every other qualification for entry. Though he won his suit and paved the way for others, Gaines mysteriously disappeared without enrolling.
In their book, “Lloyd Gaines and the Fight to End Segregation,” MU professors James W. Endersby and William T. Horner delve into the historical context of the case and explain how a Missouri college student of modest means came to be in the center of an action that helped lay a foundation for future civil rights gains in America.
Gaines had a bevy of smart, forward-looking people on his side. Attorneys for the NAACP had already been planning a strategy for a case like his, knowing it was only a matter of time until they had a client. There was, literally, not even one law school in the entire state that would accept black students. Charles Houston, former dean of Howard University, worked on the suit, as did Thurgood Marshall, who would go on to become a Supreme Court justice.
At the time it was being heard, the Gaines lawsuit made news across the country. Black presses, in particular, kept the story front and center. Two Missouri-based papers, the St. Louis American and Kansas City’s The Call, played prominent roles. (As an aside, both newspapers still publish today and recent issues are available to read in our Columbia building.)
The topic is still relevant, so let’s keep the conversation going. Come to the Columbia Public Library on Thursday, February 9 to meet Dr. Endersby who will discuss the case and the book. The program begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Friends Room. Registration is not required.
For more resources on related topics, see our catalog list: Black History in Missouri.