Living Where You Please – Shelley v. Kraemer

Today in History, May 3, 1948:

The US Supreme Court hands down a decision in Shelley v Kraemer, asserting housing rights for minorities.

In 1906 a nice two-story home was built in the 4600 block of Labadie Street in a neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri. In 1911 residents of the neighborhood established a covenant which was common in America in the early Twentieth Century; the agreement ensured their neighborhood would remain “white only.” Home owners agreed not to sell to African-Americans or Asian-Americans.

In 1930 the Shelley family moved to St. Louis from Mississippi to escape pervasive racial bias. They were raising their six children when in 1945 a home owner agreed to break the covenant and sell them the house on Lebadie Street.

Another owner, Kraemer, filed suit to prevent the sale. The local court ruled in favor of the Shelleys, the Missouri state court against them. The case was then appealed to the US Supreme Court.

In a decision reminiscent of Chief Justice John Marshall, the Court set things right. The covenant was a private, not a state agreement. Therefore, the court system did not have the authority to prevent the covenants. This also meant the courts could not ENFORCE them. The Fourteenth Amendment protections of equal enforcement of laws and property rights had been been upheld.

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