Separate but Not Equal
THe FirST SUCCeSSFUL BaTTLeS to desegregate the schools began in the colleges of the South. From Reconstruction to the 1950s, Southern black students who wanted to attend college went to all-black schools or to schools in the North. Southern states sent the few black graduate students to Northern universities. For Lloyd Lionel Gaines, that wouldn't do. He planned to become a lawyer and practice law in his home state of Missouri. The University of Missouri's law school would be the best place to study the state's legal system. He applied to the school in 1935 and was rejected. The state offered to send him to a law school in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, or Illinois. Missouri had no law school for blacks.
Gaines's suit against the university's registrar, S. W. Canada, made its way to the Supreme Court. Membership on the Court had shifted since the Plessy case, and black civil rights supporters hoped a ruling would favor their cause. In 1938, the Court ruled in Gaines's favor. The ruling upheld the [separate but equal] doctrine set forth in Plessy. But it said that Gaines was entitled to equal treatment under the law, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. If the state provided a black law school equal to that available to white students, the Court would allow segregation. Otherwise, the all-white law school would have to admit black students.