Centering Whiteness and Entrenching the Myth of Race-Neutral Alternatives to Affirmative Action

In August 1935, Lloyd Gaines, a recent Black graduate from Lincoln University—then a Black-only college operated by the University of Missouri—submitted an application for admission into the University of Missouri Law School, as Lincoln University did not have a law school at the time.Upon receipt of Gaines’ application, the University of Missouri directed him to contact Lincoln University instead, pointing Gaines to a recently enacted state statute which promised provision of tuition for any law school in an adjacent state “[p]ending the full development of the Lincoln university.”In other words, because the school only offered tuition funds to Black students attending out-of-state law schools, the University of Missouri would not accept Black law school applicants and Gaines could only apply to an out-of-state law school. While Gaines was otherwise qualified to attend the University of Missouri School of Law, he was refused admission on the grounds of his race.Gaines promptly brought an action against the University of Missouri, arguing that this denial violated the Fourteenth Amendment and demanding admission into the law school.The Supreme Court found that the state of Missouri was compelled to procure a legal education for Gaines within the state, rather than providing tuition for an out- of-state school, and determined that Gaines was entitled admission to the University of Missouri School of Law if no other legal education was available in the state.Gaines’ story of exclusion is but a vignette of the myriad struggles Black students and other students of color have faced while attempting to gain entry into institutions of higher education in the United States.6

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