(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
After years of living with relatives or in rental properties, J.D. Shelley, who’d migrated from the South to St. Louis, Missouri, with his family to escape racial oppression, decided to buy a house. He learned, however that many owners had agreed to a real estate contract clause that banned them from selling their homes to people of “Negro or Mongolian” descent.
After Shelley finally bought a house, white homeowner Louis Kraemer hired an attorney to invalidate the contract and took the case to court. After Kraemer successfully appealed, which reversed the first court’s decision, the Shelley family took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. The ruling made it illegal for states to enforce racial covenants and reinforced the 14th Amendment right to acquire, own and dispose of property. The case also provided a precedent for future cases, including one in which white homeowners in Los Angeles tried to use a similar covenant to rid their neighborhood of Black actors Hattie McDaniel, Ethel Waters, Joel Fluellen and Pearl Bailey.
In 1990, Shelley’s modest two-family home was declared a national landmark.
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