Most St. Louisans are aware of the Dred Scott Supreme Court case and its place in local history.
But this famous case, and its divisive aftermath, is not the only judicial legacy of civil rights in St. Louis. The lesser known, but equally impactful, Shelley v. Kraemer decision also originated here when J.D. Shelley, an African-American, purchased a house in the Ville neighborhood in 1945. After a three-year legal battle, racial covenants in housing, a longstanding tradition within St. Louis and other cities, were declared unenforceable by the Supreme Court.
The story of the events that led up to this milestone ruling are at the center of a new documentary film titled, “The Story of Shelley v. Kraemer,” premiering at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, at the Missouri History Museum.
Jeffrey Schneider, professor of English at St. Louis Community College-Meramec, was involved in this documentary, along with retired professor Linda Copeland. Copeland’s husband, Jeffrey Copeland, was contacted by the Missouri History Museum to produce the documentary for its upcoming year-long exhibit on civil rights in St. Louis.
“Linda asked if I would be willing to help with the project as a photographer and editorial consultant,” Schneider said. “History, especially the civil rights era, has always fascinated me, and my interest in photography is longstanding. I had never worked on a documentary project before, and I am indebted to the Copelands for allowing me to do so.”
Schneider worked with the Copelands on a script and interview questions – the documentary includes interviews with surviving members of the Shelley family and others – and took pictures of the house and surrounding areas in the Ville neighborhood.
“I enjoyed learning more about the history of this case and the living connections to the parties here in St. Louis,” he said.
“Dr. Schneider did valuable work on both the script and the images for the documentary,” Jeffrey Copeland said. “As a matter of fact, his contributions were extremely important in terms of the continuity and cohesiveness of the film.”
Schneider hopes everyone will visit the exhibit and view the documentary.
“This case literally changed the way we live in St. Louis and the nation. I am quite proud to have played a part in increasing awareness of it,” he said.
The premier event is free and open to the public. It will include a talk by Copeland, St. Louis City and Missouri History Museum representatives, and family members of those involved in the case.
The Missouri History Museum’s year-long exhibit, titled “#1 in Civil Rights: The African-American Freedom Struggle in St. Louis,” opens March 11. The 20-minute documentary on the Shelley case will be a cornerstone of the exhibit.
For more information on the exhibit and the film’s premier, visit the Missouri History Museum’s website.