In 1930, J.D. Shelley and his family bought a home in a racially restricted area of St. Louis. The seller of the home decided not to enforce the racially restrictive covenant made between property owners in the area. Subsequently, the sale led to a lawsuit between J.D. Shelley and Louis D. Kraemer, a nearby landlord. While the circuit court ruled in favor of the Shelley family, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed that decision and ordered that the covenant among landlords be honored.
The Shelleys then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On May 3, 1948, the court ruled that covenants could not be enforced by the courts, as it would constitute a state action denying due process of law, which was a violation of the 14th Amendment. The case served as a beacon of hope for African-Americans and affirmed the possibility of social change through legal action.
The Shelley House is a National Historic Landmark, designated by the National Park Service. The home is a private residence and is not open for tours.