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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Jul 29, 2022

Discrimination can take many forms. When J.D. and Ethel Shelley simply tried to purchase a house, they found themselves involved in a landmark legal case to fight for their right to move into their property. They were battling a restrictive covenant that tried to exclude them based on their race. ———

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Cicely Hunter, Public Historian from the Missouri Historical Society, and here’s history, on eighty-eight-one, KDHX. ———

For St. Louis to be named the 10th segregated city in the United States might have come as a surprise to those who heard it back in 2017, but St. Louis’s history is similar to many other urban cities. With all the hidden gems and history that surrounds this city, racial segregation became more fixed and evident as public policies and private practices tightened restrictions against Black communities. But these instances of discrimination and racism were often contested. We can look to Shelley v Kraemer, a court case that was argued in the Supreme Court and outlawed state enforced restrictive covenants. ———-

J.D. and Ethel Shelley and their children moved from Mississippi to Missouri. They were looking to purchase a home, so Elder Robert Bishop, who was their pastor and a realtor, showed them 4600 Labadie Avenue. The Shelley’s loved the home so much that they made an offer, and it was accepted. But, since the house had a restrictive covenant, the Shelley’s racial identity became a determining factor that restricted Black people from entering, purchasing, or occupying certain areas based on residential segregation. ———

The Marcus Avenue Improvement Association with Fern and Louis Kraemer as the plaintiffs were determined to stop the Shelley family from living in their newly purchased home. The Circuit Court ruled that the restrictive covenant was poorly executed since the property owners failed to sign the document. Then, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and argued the restrictive covenant remained a legitimate agreement. The final ruling by the Supreme Court on May 3, 1948, established that restrictive covenants violated the Fourteenth Amendment and could not be judicially enforced even though it was a private contract. ———

St. Louis was important to the civil rights movement, and at the center of Black legal resistance, with court cases like Shelley v Kraemer and Gaines v Canada, and Dred and Harriet Scott’s freedom suit. In 1988, the Shelley House was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark and served as a “living memorial to the Shelley family and their fight against racial discrimination.” ———

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri Historical Society and KDHX. I’m Cicely Hunter and this is eighty-eight-one, KDHX, St. Louis. ———