Lloyd Lionel Gaines was born in 1911 in Water Valley, Mississippi, and moved with his mother and siblings to St. Louis in 1926 after the death of his father. His family settled in the city’s Central West End neighborhood. Gaines did academically well in school, graduating from high school and later attending Lincoln University where he graduated with honors. He later applied to the University of Missouri’s School of Law, but was denied admission because he was Black. He later filed a law suit against the school. He refused the university’s offer to pay for him to attend another neighboring state’s law school with no racial restriction. The U.S. Supreme Court did rule in Gaines favor, holding that the separate but equal doctrine required that Missouri either admit him or set up a separate law school for Black students. Gaines later disappeared on March 19, 1939 in Chicago. He was involved in one of the most important court cases in the U.S Civil Rights Movement in the 1930s.
While Gaines was waiting for classes to start, he often traveled between St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago looking for employment. He would often do odd jobs and give speeches before the local NAACP chapters. However, one night Gaines left his fraternity house going out to purchase stamps but never returned. No one notice right away that Gaines was missing because he frequently traveled for long periods of time away without informing others of his plans. Only in the fall of the year did anyone notice his disappearance when the NAACP lawyers were unable to locate him to take depositions for a rehearing in state court. A serious search at that point began for him.
Since no one was able to locate Gaines the law suit was dismissed. While most of his family believed at the time that he had been murdered in retaliation for his legal victory, there has been some speculation that he grew tired of his role in the civil rights movement and simply decided to relocate, either to New York or Mexico City. In 2007, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agreed to look into the case, along with many other unsolved missing persons cases related to the civil rights era. Gaines has since been honored by the University of Missouri School of Law and the state.