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Last week, Ellie Kemper's name made headlines when an old photo of her in her hometown resurfaced that showed her at a debutante ball with racist roots. A Twitter user had discovered evidence of Kemper's involvement in the Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis from 1999, an event in which the actress was crowned the Queen of Love and Beauty, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. But this event has a questionable past.
The Veiled Prophet Organization, which played host to the debutante ball, was founded in the late 1800s by Missouri businessmen in "response to growing labor unrest in the city, much of it involving cooperation between white and Black workers," according to The Atlantic. At the time, Jewish people and Black people were not permitted to join the organization. Each year, the organization chose a Veiled Prophet who would then select the Queen of Love and Beauty as part of a ritual rooted in elitism. Though it evolved over the years and eventually opened its doors to non-white people, the history of the organization remained and it was still highly criticized for being a racist, elitist organization with a dark past, as The Atlantic stated.
While the recent controversy over Kemper's involvement stewed, the actress remained quiet until yesterday, June 7th, when she shared a response to questions on her Instagram. In a text-only graphic, Kemper wrote, "Hi guys - when I was 19 years old, I decided to participate in a debutante ball in my hometown. The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist, and elitist past. 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 write that she "unequivocally" deplores, denounces, and rejects "white supremacy." She added that she believes in "the values of kindness, integrity, and inclusiveness," saying she does what she can to embody these values in her life.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star concluded her post by apologizing and saying she'll continue to learn and user her privilege "in support of the better society."
The debutante ball's name was changed in 1992 to Fair Saint Louis, which is technically the event Kemper participated in. Though Kemper hails from a wealthy Midwest family, there's been no connection between her and the KKK, which was the accusation when the photos of her at the ball emerged. In fact, according to Variety, despite theories, the organization doesn't have any ties to the white supremacy group. Even without clear ties, though, the racist roots of the Veiled Prophet Organization remain.
However, slamming Kemper as someone tied to the KKK is perhaps a bit too far. Now that she's apologized, she'll hopefully understand better where the criticism comes from and actively choose to use her privilege to make a difference for the better.