A Quiet Hero of Civil Rights History, Vanished in 1939

In 1938, the Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision1, ruled that the segregated University of Missouri Law School had to admit Lloyd Lionel Gaines, but he never made it there.

Lloyd Gaines was moody that winter of 1939, acting not at all like a man who had just triumphed in one of the biggest Supreme Court cases in decades. And oddly, even though it was raining and the sidewalks of Chicago were clogged with slush, he felt a need to buy postage stamps one night.

Or so he told a friend just before he left his apartment house on March 19, 1939, never to be seen again. Had he not vanished at 28, Lloyd Gaines might be in the pantheon of civil rights history with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall and other giants whose names will be invoked at the centennial convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which started this weekend in Manhattan.

Instead, Mr. Gaines has been consigned to one of history’s side rooms, his name recalled mainly by legal scholars and relatives, like Tracy Berry, an assistant United States attorney in St. Louis whose grandmother was Mr. Gaines’s sister.

“He was taken away and more than likely killed,” Ms. Berry said when asked to speculate on his fate. She said Mr. Gaines was known in family lore as “a caring, loving brother and son” who would not have chosen to disappear or commit suicide, despite the pressure he was under.

[Click to read more of A Quiet Hero of Civil Rights History, Vanished in 1939 – NYTimes.com]

I’m nearly done reading American Pharaoh, and so much of the book is about race relations in Chicago. I am amazed how virulent the hatred towards blacks was, even as late as the 1970s. Not that there isn’t still racism in Chicago2, but I can’t imagine bigots throwing rocks and burning bottles at police for daring to attempt to protect black families from harm. I’m unsure as to the exact circumstances that led to Mr. Gaines’ death (was it abduction by bigots, or something else?), but the racism was so ingrained in Chicago of the last century, I am not surprised if he was actually murdered.

update, post-racial, like in swimming pools in Huntingdon Valley, PA, as illustrated by Tony Auth.

  1. there was a vacancy on the court at the time []
  2. and the US, and the world []

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