Robert Elias: A Lost Hero of the Civil Rights EraRoundup: Historians' Take
tags: civil rights, Washington Post, Robert Elias, Lloyd Gaines
Robert Elias is a professor of law and politics at the University of San Francisco. He is the author of the forthcoming book “At What Price Equality? The Heroic Court Battle and Mysterious Disappearance of Lloyd Gaines.”
Lloyd Gaines had just become a civil rights pioneer. Denied admission to the University of Missouri’s Law School in 1935 because he was African American, Gaines sued, without much hope of winning in Jim Crow America. Yet after the U.S. Supreme Court finally heard his case in 1938, the justices ruled that unless Missouri created a black law school overnight, it would have to admit Gaines to the all-white law school. This was astonishing news for a black boy born dirt-poor in rural Mississippi who had watched racism follow his family’s migration north to St. Louis.
In the spring of 1939 it appeared, remarkably, that Gaines would enter the Missouri Law School later that year as the first African American ever enrolled there. On the cold, rainy evening of March 19, Gaines told a housemate he was going to buy stamps. He went out . . . and was never seen again.
What happened to Lloyd Gaines? Did he vanish because he and his family were threatened? Was he bribed to abandon his plans? Was he overwhelmed by the pressures of fighting his case? Was he so traumatized that he committed suicide? Was he murdered by racists? Did he leave the country?...
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