The Descendants

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On this episode, Kameel and Tim listen to the descendants of J.D. and Ethel Shelley tell the story of their family’s place in American history. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE COPELAND COLLECTION

On this episode ... 

J.D. and Ethel Shelley wanted a better home and more opportunities for themselves and their children. They were crammed into a small apartment in downtown St. Louis, but had saved enough money to buy a nice, two apartment building in a quiet neighborhood in north St. Louis called the Greater Ville.

But racially restrictive covenants barred the Shelleys, who were black, from owning the home. So in 1945 a white realtor bought the home from the Kraemers, who were white, and then quickly signed the deed over to the Shelleys. When the Kraemers found out, they filed a lawsuit to get the Shelleys kicked out. The case made its way up the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1948 that enforcing such restrictive racial covenants was unconstitutional in St. Louis and the rest of the country.

And while historians may get the facts and significance of the case right, there are details and human truths that are best expressed by family members.