Because of the importance of the Gaines case, all justices of the Court heard his appeal. Houston argued that the refusal to admit Gaines to the University of Missouri violated his rights under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. With the decision of the Missouri Supreme Court, the case of Gaines became the right challenge at the right time.
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In the summer of , Charles Houston began preparations for the most significant challenge to segregated education since Charles Sumner presented his arguments to the Massachusetts Supreme Court in the Roberts case almost a century earlier. Roosevelt had made two appointments in the previous fifteen months. One of the new appointees, Hugo Black, would become a leading voice on the Court for civil liberties for decades to come. The other recent addition to the Court, Stanley Reed, though hardly a champion of civil rights, represented at least a winnable vote.
Moreover, the Supreme Court had issued landmark decisions over the past six years upholding the claims of black litigants. None of these recent decisions attracted more attention, of course, than those rendered by the Court in two appeals in the Scottsboro Boys cases. As Houston prepared in the fall of to argue the Gaines case, he had reasons to be cautiously optimistic.
On November 8, , Houston reread the record in Gaines. He made notes on issues to stress and honed his arguments. Then he walked from his office on F Street to the Howard Law School where he rehearsed his oral argument before students and professors. Two members of his audience, Robert Carter and Spottswood Robinson, would later be among the first blacks to serve on the federal bench.
After Houston completed his argument, he asked his audience to critique him. The next day, before eight justices of the Supreme Court—a replacement for the recently deceased Justice Cardozo had not yet been made--Charles Houston argued the case on which the hopes of so many black lawyers had been fastened. Gaines v. Canada, Registrar of the University of Missouri on December 12, The Missouri Supreme Court had erred.
Missouri had violated the right of Lloyd Gaines to the equal protection of the laws. Charles Houston told the press that Gaines would open up new opportunities for blacks in the sixteen states that barred them from professional schools. Many black commentators were less restrained than Houston. He declined comment except to say he would confer with his attorneys before making any plans.
Because Negroes will accept no make shifts, no postponements, no evasions!
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Southern papers, on the other hand, worried over what Gaines might mean for their own state universities. The Missouri Student , a paper edited by students at the University of Missouri, offered an interesting editorial comment:. Of immediate importance to students is the possibility of Gaines occupying a seat in a Missouri University classroom. Outspoken students said they would not sit by a Negro in class. Stronger voices announced that they would leave school, if Gaines were admitted.
Where would they go? The Supreme Court decision holds for the nation; consequently, all southern schools will be forced to allow whites and Negroes to study in the same institution…. We who are students will have no say as to what will be done about the Negro attending school, but it is we who will go to school with him. Few will have the money to come, and those who do will come mostly for advanced education and, for the most part, will be a superior Negro. Our actions in accepting him will define our status as Americans. Our pilgrim, continental, Gettysburg tradition is freedom and racial equality for all.
It is our cue to pioneer the nation out of this last frontier of racial prejudice and superstition. John D.
White students, meanwhile, enjoyed a spacious brick school building with a spanking new gymnasium. Carloads of blacks from Kansas City traveled to Jefferson City to voice their opposition at a hearing on the bill. Despite the efforts of black citizens and their white supporters, the Taylor bill passed the House to 19, the Senate 25 to 6, and was signed by the Governor. The University rented a building in St.
Louis, hired a faculty of four, brought in a dean from Howard, and purchased a law library of 10, volumes. On September 21, the Lincoln Law School opened with thirty black students. Lloyd Gaines was not among them. Charles Houston and other NAACP attorneys assembled in early October to take depositions in preparation for the hearing scheduled a week later in Columbia to determine whether the University had complied with the Gaines decision. Attorneys deposed each of the four instructors of the new Lincoln Law School. The deposition of Lloyd Gaines was next.
Attorneys planned to ask Gaines whether he considered Lincoln to be as good of a law school as Missouri and whether he planned to enroll there. Called for questioning, Gaines did not respond. He could not be located anywhere. Newspapers around the country ran his picture. People knowing his whereabouts were asked to call his attorneys. No news. Lawyers for the University of Missouri warned that if Gaines could not be found soon, the case would have to be dismissed. Shortly after the Supreme Court decision, Lloyd Gaines left his civil service job in Michigan and returned home to St.
He told friends that he intended to remain there until September, when he planned to begin school in Columbia. In the meantime, to pay the bills, he took a job as a filling station attendant. On January 9, Gaines spoke to the St. Gaines quit his gas station job. He explained to his family that the station owner substituted inferior gas and he could not—in good conscience—continue to work there.
While in Kansas City, Gaines looked for work, but not finding any, boarded a train for Chicago, telling people in Kansas City that he would spend a few days there and then return to St.
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I have come to Chicago hoping to find it possible to make my own way. I hope by this letter to make very clear to you the reasons for such a step…. As for publicity relative to the university case, I have found that my race still likes to applaud, shake hands, pat me on the back and say how great and noble is the idea, how historical and socially significant the case but—and there it ends. Sometimes I wish I were a plain, ordinary man whose name no one recognized. I enjoyed my brief stay in K. I found Eddie Mae Page at home and had her cook lunch—ham and eggs, wheat cakes and coffee.
She had some of her chums come over and so I stayed until Mrs. Paid up my room rent until March 7th. Sometime after Gaines moved into the Alpha house he sent his mother a postcard. Either shortly after or immediately before Gaines mailed the card, on a night in mid-March, Gaines put on his overcoat and stepped out into the hallway of the Alpha house.
He stepped out the door and vanished into the cold, rainy darkness. Word that Gaines had not been seen for over half a year before he failed to show for his deposition shocked Houston and his other attorneys. The unconcerned attitude of Gaines family members shocked them nearly as much. Theories to explain his disappearance abound.
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Some believe that an ardent Missouri segregationist bribed Gaines to moot the litigation against the University and that Gaines went on to a life of leisure in a foreign country under an assumed name. Others believe Gaines to have been the victim of foul play—possibly at the hands of white supremacists or men contracted by segregationists to kill him. A third possibility is that Gaines—penniless, bothered by his notoriety and feeling somewhat a guinea pig in the NAACP litigation—committed suicide. His disappearance remains a mystery. Lucile H.
Houston saw the advantages of a lawsuit with Bluford as plaintiff. First, it would focus attention on Negro women. It will show the problem cannot be solved by putting a law school at Lincoln University.