Ellie Kemper apologizes for winning debutante ball with a 'racist, sexist, and elitist' past

Ellie Kemper apologizes for winning debutante ball with a 'racist, sexist, and elitist' past
  • Actress Ellie Kemper broke her silence Monday about criticism over her 1999 win at a debutante ball.

  • Kemper acknowledged the ball's "unquestionably racist, sexist, and elitist past" and apologized for participating.

  • "I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved," she said.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Actress Ellie Kemper on Monday broke her silence and apologized for winning a debutante ball in 1999, hosted by an organization with ties to white supremacy.

"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," Kemper said of the Veiled Prophet Ball in a lengthy post on Instagram.

"I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved," she added.

Kemper, who is best known for roles in Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and "The Office," was crowned the "Queen of Love and Beauty" at the Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis, Missouri. At the time, she was a 19-year-old student at Princeton.

Social media lit up with criticism last week when a news article from the time of her win resurfaced, as people called out the organization's links to racism.

Kemper said Monday that she "unequivocally" deplored, denounced, and rejected white supremacy, but admitted she had benefited "from a system that has dispensed unequal justice and unequal rewards."

The ball was founded by former confederate soldiers in 1878

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1878 newspaper illustration of a “Veiled Prophet.” Wikipedia Commons.

The Veiled Prophet Ball has been hosted in St. Louis for more than a century. The event is organized by The Veiled Prophet, an organization co-founded in the late 1800s by brothers Alonzo and Charles Slayback, who were both former confederate soldiers.

In his 2000 book, "The St. Louis Veiled Prophet Celebration: Power on Parade, 1877-1995," historian Thomas Spencer wrote that the ball was originally organized as a response from St. Louis' business elite who were trying to halt growing labor unrest in the city, specifically tied to the 1877 Railroad Strike in which railroad workers across the country protested for better pay and working conditions.

Kemper, who belongs to one of the wealthiest and influential banking families in the mid-west, was the event's 105th Queen of Love and Beauty, according to an archived article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from that year.

At its inception, the Veiled Prophet barred Black and Jewish Americans from participating. The organization didn't welcome Black members until 1979 after the civil rights group, Action Committee to Improve Opportunities for Negroes (ACTION), held protests at the ball.

The Veiled Prophet is not directly linked to the Klu Klux Klan, however

Despite claims made on social media after Kemper's involvement was revealed, the organization is not directly linked to the white supremacist terrorist group, the Klu Klux Klan.

People had linked the original imagery of the Veiled Prophet, which showed a character brandishing a shotgun and wearing white robes, to the Klan. However, some historians have noted that the Klan did not officially adopt the uniform of white robes and hoods until its resurgence in 1915, after the release of D.W. Griffith's film "The Birth of a Nation," decades after the St. Louis event was founded.

Insider reached out to the Veiled Prophet, but didn't immediately hear back.

In a statement given to USA Today last week, though, the Veiled Prophet organization said that it is "dedicated to civic progress, economic contributions and charitable causes in St. Louis."

"Our organization believes in and promotes inclusion, diversity, and equality for this region," the statement added. "We absolutely reject racism and have never partnered or associated with any organization that harbors these beliefs," the statement read.

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