December 12, 2018

THE MYSTERY OF LLOYD GAINES’ DISAPPEARANCE: On this day in 1938, the Supreme Court decided Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada. Star-student Lloyd Gaines applied to law school at the University of Missouri, but was refused admission on the ground that he was black. Instead, the State of Missouri offered to pay his tuition at a law school in another state. The Supreme Court held that it was idiotic to call that equal protection. (No, the Court didn’t put it quite that way.) Its holding was nevertheless limited. It said that that it wasn’t necessarily so that Missouri must admit Gaines to the University of Missouri’s law school. It might be enough to set up a different law school for him in Missouri.

Here’s the weird part: Lloyd Gaines never took advantage of his victory. Months later, he vanished, never to surface again. He left the fraternity house in Chicago where he had been staying, saying that he needed to buy stamps. He never came back.

Some people, including some of his relatives, believe that he was murdered for his role as plaintiff in the case. But there are problems with that theory. Gaines was known to disappear for days at a time. He was that sort of guy. And he was known to be uncomfortable with his role as a civil rights hero. More than a decade later, his mother told a reporter for Ebony magazine that Gaines had written her before his disappearance, “Goodbye. If you don’t hear from me anymore you know I’ll be all right.”  If true, that makes murder highly unlikely. But weirdly, she hadn’t mentioned such a statement in public before (although she’d never personally called the police about her son’s disappearance).  FWIW, she was thought to be highly distrustful of police.  It’s all very strange.

The NAACP circulated a photograph of Gaines, hoping that someone had seen him. There were possible sightings in Mexico City and New York,  but … well … nobody knows for sure.

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