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Pernicious Effects Of Racially Restrictive Housing Covenants Still Felt Today

Seventy-three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive housing covenants. The case, Shelley v. Kraemer, involved St. Louisans J.D. and Ethel Shelley, who had sought to move into a modest brick house just north of St. Louis Avenue in what is today the Kingsway East neighborhood.

In 1911, the neighborhood enacted a racially restrictive covenant designed to prevent African Americans and Asian Americans from living in the area. Neighbor Louis Kraemer sued to enforce the covenant, barring transfer of the title to the Shelleys.

Though Kraemer lost in court and racially restrictive covenants have been illegal for more than 70 years, their impact can still be felt today. That’s the focus of a new paper by Colin Gordon in the Journal of Urban History.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske spoke with Gordon about how racially restrictive covenants shaped the city of St. Louis.

Gordon is a history professor at the University of Iowa. He is also the author of "Citizen Brown: Race, Democracy, and Inequality in the St. Louis Suburbs" as well as “Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City.”

Does your home have old restrictions on who can buy and live in it? St. Louis Public Radio reporter Corinne Ruff wants to hear from you. Inform her reporting on racially restrictive covenants in the St. Louis region and the impact they still carry today.

Email tips to cruff@stlpublicradio.org.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Emily Woodbury joined the St. Louis on the Air team in July 2019. Prior to that, she worked at Iowa Public Radio as a producer for two daily, statewide talk programs. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa with a degree in journalism and a minor in political science. She got her start in news radio by working at her college radio station as a news director. Emily enjoys playing roller derby, working with dogs, and playing games – both video and tabletop.