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The Kraemers owned a home in St. Louis, Missouri in a neighborhood under a restrictive covenant. The covenant barred the lease or sale of any home in the neighborhood to anyone “of the Negro or Mongolian Race.”
Nevertheless, in 1945, when the Kraemers put their home on the market, they accepted an offer from J.D. and Ethel Shelley, a black couple. The local homeowners association sued to enforce the covenant and enjoin the Shelleys from taking possession of the property.
After a protracted legal battle, the case wound up before the United States Supreme Court. The issue was whether parties’ racially restrictive land-use covenants could be constitutionally enforced by courts.
Ultimately, the Court held that judicial enforcement of racially restrictive covenants violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Though the Fourteenth Amendment applied only to state action and could not bar parties from entering into racially restrictive covenants, the enforcement of those agreements by state institutions rose to the level of state action in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948), was a landmark decision that cleared the way for integration of neighborhoods and communities throughout the United States.