On a cool, rainy night in March 1939, a handsome, rail-thin graduate student named Lloyd Gainesthrew on an overcoat and journeyed into the streets of south Chicago. On his way out, he told the door attendant that he was on a quick errand to buy some stamps. The 28-year-old Gaines was never seen or heard from again.
Just three months before he vanished, the St. Louis honors student won a pivotal United States Supreme Court decision mandating that the State of Missouri admit him into its university law school or build a separate — and equal — law school for blacks. The lawsuit, Gaines v. Canada,was filed against the University of Missouri’s then-registrar, S.W. Canada.
The case helped forge the legal framework for the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision,Brown v. Board of Education, which banned segregation in public schools.
Friends and relatives recall Gaines as a quiet, headstrong man whose family migrated north from Mississippi in the late 1920s. As a young college student, Gaines walked the neighborhoods of north St. Louis selling magazines to help pay for his education. When his youngest sister finished eighth grade, he scraped together his meager savings to buy her a dress for graduation.
Something of a loner, Gaines was known to stay away from home for nights on end and journey off-campus without telling a soul. Discussing the disappearance years later, one of Lloyd’s older brothers told a reporter, “He always kept kind to himself, so we figured he knew what he was doing and whatever he did was his own business.”