ST. LOUIS — Actress and St. Louis native Ellie Kemper has responded to the controversy surrounding her role at the 1999 Veiled Prophet Ball.
The "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and "The Office" star was named the "queen of love and beauty" at the ball. After Twitter users recently discovered this, some dubbed the actress a "KKK prom queen" for her participation.
Monday morning, Kemper made a post on Instagram apologizing for her connection to the VP organization — which critics have said is a force for institutionalized racism in St. Louis — saying she didn't know about the group's history. She was 19 at the time.
“The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist, and elitist past,” she wrote. “I was not aware of this history at the time, but ignorance is no excuse. I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved.”
Kemper went on to say that “I unequivocally deplore, denounce, and reject white supremacy.” She apologized to those she has disappointed and promised that moving forward she will “listen, continue to educate myself, and use my privilege in support of the better society I think we’re capable of becoming.”
Read Kemper's full statement in the post below:
“You know, you get on Twitter and that's a great place to fire off a hot take. But it might not really dive into the complexity that an issue like this deserves,” said Adam Kloeppe, a public historian for the Missouri Historical Society.
Kemper is one of more than 130 other young women to wear the crown since the organization was founded more than as many years ago.
“They now try to form themselves more as a booster organization, try to do good public works and things like that," Kloppe said. "It is tied up with the history of class leaders and money in St. Louis and those issues. You can't extricate race from those issues."
Inspired by the Mardi Gras krewes of New Orleans and a character in a then-popular poem, the veiled prophet organization was established in response to major labor strikes that shut down the city — and the threat of Black and white workers uniting.
"In 1878, the city's elites wanted to sort of take the power of the city back. They wanted to show that they were still the people in control of the city," said Kloppe.
The organization maintains its founding purpose was to plan and host events that would attract visitors to St. Louis. For some, the VP parade and fair were some of the events of the summer.
The Veiled Prophet Organization provided the following statement:
Upon reflection, the Veiled Prophet Organization acknowledges our past and recognizes the criticism levied our way. We sincerely apologize for the actions and images from our history. Additionally, our lack of cultural awareness was and is wrong. We are committed to change, allowing our actions to match the organization we are today.
The VP Organization of today categorically rejects racism, in any form. Today’s VP is committed to diversity and equity in our membership, community service initiatives and support for the region. Our hope is that moving forward, the community sees us for who we are today and together we can move this region forward for everyone.
We are, and always will be committed to the success of the region and making St Louis a better place to live for all.