Given the recent resignation of University of Missouri Tim Wolfe due to growing racial tensions at the school, a closer look at Mizzou’s past reveals that the learning institution has a history of racism. Despite notions that the school is one of the more progressive hubs of the Deep South, the university has endured public scandals related to race issues.
Between 1935 and 1950, around 70 Black students attempted to enter Mizzou and were turned away due to the color of their skin. Many of these students attended the Blacks-only Lincoln University in the state, and sought educational equal footing. One of those students was Lloyd Gaines, a graduate of Lincoln University and the University of Michigan, who attempted to attend Mizzou’s law school.
With the help of the NAACP, Gaines drew up a lawsuit against the school’s registrar, C.W. Canada. The Gaines v. Canada case made its way to the Supreme Court, with the high court siding with Gaines in the end. Under the ruling, the university was slated to either admit Gaines to the law program, or create a “separate but equal” school for Blacks. The school opted for the latter, and Gaines sought work out-of-state to pass time.
While he was working in Chicago, the 28-year-old Gaines mysteriously disappeared after telling a door attendant. he was going to buy some stamps. It was some time before people knew he was missing and he was never heard from again. In recent times, the NAACP has requested that the FBI and the Justice Department look into Gaines’ disappearance.
In 1941, Kansas City journalist Lucile Bluford was admitted to Mizzou’s school of journalism but her application was denied once it was discovered she was Black. Bluford sued the school and the Supreme Court sided with her case as well but the graduate school for journalism closed its doors shortly after due to low enrollment and budget issues.
Eight years later in 1949, Mizzou students voted to open its doors to Black students. Over 6,000 students voted that year with 70 percent in approval. The following year, nine Black students entered the campus doors of the university. One of the school’s most prominent Black students, Dr. Gus T. Ridgel, was Mizzou’s first Black graduate student.
Because he was short of money, Ridgel completed his two-year master’s degree in economics course load in one year and graduated with honors.
Mizzou’s sports color barrier was broken in 1956 after Al Abrams was given an athletic scholarship to join its men’s basketball squad.