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#TBT: Gaines v. Canada

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In August 1935, Lloyd Gaines graduated from Lincoln University, an all-black institution for higher learning. He applied to the University of Missouri Law School but was told that the university would not admit a student of color, despite the fact that he was qualified. All law schools in Missouri rejected any applicant that was of color. The state of Missouri offered to pay for Gaines' admission into another state law school in an adjacent state that did admit people of color.

This was the perfect case for Charles Hamilton Houston, who was one of the few African American graduates from Harvard University’s Law School and worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Houston saw the case as a way to challenge segregation in the South. He used the precedent provided by Plessy v. Ferguson, which stated that states could have separate facilities for white people and people of color, but they must be equal. This was not the case in many segregated societies. The facilities provided for people of color were not maintained as well as those provided to whites. The funding given to schools for people of color and the opportunities afforded to them were not equal to the schools for whites. Houston wanted to help Gaines and create a precedent that would essentially work on forcing integration.

Missouri’s offer to provide Gaines’s tuition at another state’s graduate program, to them, seemed like a way around the “separate but equal” contingency. Houston argued that it was not. Missouri was required to have an option for Gaines within the state as it was a government entity that was required to comply with “separate but equal” within its borders. Missouri would either have to build and fund a graduate school for Gaines and other people of color or it would have to admit Gaines into the University of Missouri. Most states, like Missouri, would not be able, or willing, to pay for entirely separate and equal institutions and would have to allow Gaines and other colored students into the University of Missouri. It is important to note that an equal institution would have to have equal facilities as well as equal opportunities. They would need the same qualified staff, the same prestige, the same honor, and have their diplomas carry the same weight. If that seems impossible, it is because it was supposed to. Houston and the NAACP were using the Court’s erroneous judgment in the Plessy case to prove that there could be no “separate but equal” and that segregation was not in the interest of the American people, democratically or economically.

The Supreme Court sided with Gaines and agreed with Houston’s argument that Missouri would have to provide and equal facility in the state of Missouri or admit Gaines to the University of Missouri. The Gaines decision was monumental in realizing that “separate but equal” was deeply flawed. The cases that relied on this precedent to overturn segregation were numerous. It culminated in Brown v. Board of Education, one of the most famous Supreme Court decision.



"Gaines v. Canada (1938)." PBS. Educational Broadcasting Corporation. Web. 16 July 2014. .

"Missouri Ex Rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed." BlackPast.org. Version 2.0. BlackPast.org. Web. 16 July 2014. .


Joseph M. Ghabour
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