1945 - Present
In 1945, J.D. and Ethel Shelley purchased a home in St. Louis’ Fairgrounds neighborhood (now part of the Greater Ville). Like many Black families, the Shelleys left Mississippi to escape violent racism and settled in St. Louis. After years of living with relatives and renting, the Shelleys moved into the modest brick duplex at 4600 Labadie Avenue. The family, however, was unaware that a racial restrictive covenant barred African Americans from purchasing homes in the neighborhood.
The Shelley House became the backdrop for one of the most important Supreme Court cases in the twentieth century. Shortly after the Shelleys moved into the Fairgrounds neighborhood, Louis and Fern Kraemer filed a lawsuit against them to enforce the covenant. By 1948, the case reached the United States Supreme Court. The Shelley v. Kraemer decision prohibited state courts from enforcing racial restrictive covenants as these were a violation of the 14th Amendment. The Shelleys’ victory struck down one of the most significant obstacles preventing Black homeownership across the country.
Despite the ruling, decades of redlining, unequal lending, and disinvestment have kept Missouri’s neighborhoods segregated. The Shelley House remains a private residence and has received recognition in the last decades because of its significance in the Black civil rights movement. In 1990, the home was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2019, it was included as part of the National Parks Services’ African American Civil Rights Network and in the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
Date: 1945 - Present
Subject: Race discrimination; Desegregtion
Contributing Institution: Missouri Historical Society
Accession Number: N21217
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Region: St. Louis Metro
Photograph Date: 1993
Photographer: David Schultz