The FBI has been asked to investigate the disappearance nearly 70 years ago of Lloyd Gaines, who vanished shortly after winning a legal fight to become the first black man admitted to the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced Friday that it has asked the FBI to try and determine what happened to Gaines, who disappeared in 1939.
Angela Ciccolo, deputy general counsel for the NAACP, told the university’s School of Law that the FBI was contacted this week about the possibility of reopening Gaines’ case.
“We need to know what happened to him,” Ciccolo said, adding that many fear that Gaines was the victim of foul play.
After being denied admittance to the law school because he was black, Gaines sued and his case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1938 that Missouri must either admit him or establish a separate law school for blacks.
The school chose to open a separate school, prompting Gaines to decide to attend graduate school in Michigan. He disappeared in 1939 and was last seen in Chicago.
Theories about his disappearance range from foul play at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan to a self-imposed exile in Mexico. When he disappeared, his lawyers were forced to drop the case.
The FBI said earlier this week that it would reopen some cold civil rights cases from the civil rights era, which it defined as between 1952 and 1968.
Jeff Lanza, spokesman for the FBI office in Kansas City, said even though Gaines’ disappeared before 1952, the FBI would consider investigating the case.
“We will look at the facts and circumstances of the case and make a determination of whether or not it should be reopened,” Lanza said.
Last spring, Missouri awarded Gaines an honorary law degree.
Gaines’ nephew, George Gaines, of San Diego, said Friday that he hoped reopening the case might shed some light on his uncle’s disappearance.
“Time itself would suggest that the longer you are away from the event, the likelihood of solving it becomes worse and worse,” he said. “But it might shed some light on it.”
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