In 1939, Lucile Bluford was already an experienced journalist with her sights set on earning a graduate degree from the Missouri School of Journalism. After starting at the Daily World in Atlanta, she had returned home to Kansas City to work for the Kansas City American and then the Kansas City Call. When Bluford was 27, the University of Missouri accepted her application to attend graduate school, but upon her arrival, she was turned away.

In this Missourian archives file photo from Feb. 1, 1989, Lucile Bluford answers phones while working at the Kansas City Call.

In this Missourian archives file photo from Feb. 1, 1989, Lucile Bluford answers phones while working at the Kansas City Call.

Citing “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws, officials pointed Bluford toward Lincoln University, then Missouri’s only public college open to African-Americans. Lincoln University had no dedicated journalism school, and Bluford was more experienced than two of the school’s three journalism professors. She responded by filing lawsuits against the University of Missouri. After two years in the courtroom, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1941. However, MU temporarily closed its doors to all graduate students in 1942 due to a wartime shortage of students.

Bluford never attended MU. She died in 2003, but throughout her long career she fought racism and inequality, serving as a leading voice in the civil rights movement.

In 1989, MU awarded Bluford an honorary doctoral degree, which she accepted, not for herself, but for all the black students the university had discriminated against over the years. “Lucile used journalism as a vehicle to eradicate systems and structures that served as impediments to progress, especially in the area of higher education,” says Kevin McDonald, vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity. In February, the University of Missouri Board of Curators named Lucile Bluford Residence Hall in her honor.

“It’s fitting that the state honor Lucile Bluford, who fought to provide voice to the voiceless throughout her career,” says Lynda Kraxberger, associate dean and professor in the MU School of Journalism. “Bluford’s persistent advocacy for people of color stands as a monument of truth to power.”