The last living child of a St. Louis couple who broke residential segregation barriers has died. Chatlee Williams died last Wednesday at the age of 88.
Her parents, J.D. and Ethel Shelley, made history when they brought their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court’s decision put an end to legalized residential segregation in 1948.
Monica Holmes, Williams’ granddaughter, said her grandmother always took pride in the historical legacy her parents left behind.
“She spent a lot of her time educating her nieces and nephews and her grandkids and great-grandkids as to what happened … when they went to purchase the house,” Holmes said.
Williams was one of five children. Holmes said that, while her grandmother had a lot of good memories in the house, the continued racism in the neighborhood made it a challenge.
“The people in the neighborhood didn’t want them in there,” Holmes said. “So most of the time in the house they would be under fear, because they didn’t know what the next day would bring.”
Williams went on to become a seamstress alongside her mother at Welsh Baby Carriage. The Shelley’s home was added to the African American Civil Rights Network last year. It was the first property in the state to be added to the register.
Holmes said that although her grandmother is gone, she will hold onto the memories and important life lessons she taught her, including the value of family.
"To have a family," she said. “To be a family. And she basically raised us up on how to love each other and how to respect our elders.”
A funeral service will be held for Williams on Monday.