Lloyd L. Gaines - Legacy and Honors

Legacy and Honors

Although they had never had Lloyd Gaines declared legally dead, the family nevertheless erected a monument to him in a Missouri cemetery in 1999. "His legacy didn't so much make me want to go to law school," says Tracy Berry. "But I think he did instill the legacy of education in our family. It's expected that you go to college. He started the fight that made it all possible." The Louisville Defender, that city's African American newspaper, expressed similar sentiments in a December 1939 editorial: "hether Gaines has been bribed, intimidated or worse, should certainly have little permanent effect on the struggle for equal rights and social justice in connection with Negro education in the South ... Negroes are already hammering upon the doors of graduate schools hitherto closed to them, with increasing persistence."

"I remember the Gaines case as one of our greatest legal victories," said Thurgood Marshall, who argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court and was later that body's first African American justice. "But I have never lost the pain of having so many people spend so much time and money on him, just to have him disappear."

Even without having forced the issue at the Missouri Supreme Court, and without challenging the separate but equal doctrine, Gaines " constitutional compliance in the absence of integration difficult to achieve," according to historian Gary Lavergne. He cited three aspects of the decision:

  • First, the Court held that Gaines' right was "a personal and individual one." Gaines was entitled to go to law school regardless of how little demand there was for legal education among African Americans.
  • Second, the state could not meet its constitutional burden by sending students out of state. "With Gaines, the idea of using out-of-state scholarships to meet the test of separate but equal legally ended forever and everywhere in the United States," Lavergne says.
  • Third, "the Court said that the promise of future equality ... did not make temporary discrimination constitutional."

NAACP lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston had hoped that the effect of similar court rulings that gave segregationist states a choice between full integration or duplication of programs for students of different races would lead many of them to choose the less expensive former option. But without Gaines, he could not carry through the next stage of his plan in the Missouri Supreme Court.

In the short term the abrupt dismissal of the case forced by Gaines' disappearance was a setback for all efforts to legally challenge segregation. The NAACP's resources were depleted after having spent $25,000 ($415,000 in modern dollars) on the case. New plaintiffs, already difficult to find in the depressed economy, couldn't be supported by the organization. Lincoln University School of Law, the only tangible result of the case, was closed by the mid-1950s due to lack of students. When World War II, which had already begun in Europe, swept in the United States two years later, the civil-rights struggle was suspended for the duration.

Houston, ill with the tuberculosis that would end his life a decade later, resigned from the NAACP to return to private practice. Marshall took over for him, a change of personnel that ultimately benefited the desegregation legal effort after the war, when the organization found more plaintiffs and challenged segregationist policies in public graduate schools with cases like Sipuel v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Okla., Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents. The University of Missouri School of Law, bowing to pressure from the student body, finally admitted its first African American student in 1951. Three years later the desegregation effort climaxed with Brown, overturning Plessy v. Ferguson and the separate but equal doctrine forever.

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