Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Ellie Kemper has apologized for taking part in a 1999 Missouri pageant that once banned black members and celebrated the wealthy white elite, saying she was not aware at the time of its ‘racist, sexist and elitist past’.
The 41-year-old actress spoke out on Monday after a photo of her being crowned the winner of the St Louis-based Veiled Prophet Ball when she was 19 years old started going viral on Twitter.
The Veiled Prophet Organization has been criticized in the past for its racist history and ties to white supremacy.
In an Instagram post, Kemper said her ignorance about the organization’s past as a teenager wasn’t an excuse.
‘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,’ she wrote.
Ellie Kemper spoke out on Monday after a photo (above) of her being crowned the winner of the St Louis-based Veiled Prophet Ball when she was 19 years old started going viral on Twitter
Sorry: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Ellie Kemper apologized on Monday for participating in the Veiled Prophet Ball when she was 19 years old
‘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.
‘I unequivocally deplore, denounce, and reject white supremacy. At the same time, I acknowledge that because of my race and my privilege, I am the beneficiary of a system that dispensed unequal justice and unequal rewards.
“There is a very natural temptation, when you become the subject of internet criticism, to tell yourself that your detractors are getting it all wrong. But at some point last week, I realized that a lot of the forces behind the criticism are forces that I’ve spent my life supporting and agreeing with.’
Kemper went on to apologize for those she had ‘disappointed’.
The controversy erupted a week ago after the photo of her being crowned the winner resurfaced and started spreading on social media.
The image, which was originally printed in St Louis Dispatch newspaper, sparked controversy after a person referred to Kemper as the ‘KKK queen’ for being crowned the winner.
While an historic Veiled Prophet image showing a person dressed in a hood and robe has drawn comparisons to the KKK, there are no known links between the organization and Klansman.
The latest: Ellie, whose real name is Elizabeth, was a 19-year-old Princeton University student when she was crowned Queen of Love and Beauty in 1999
The latest: During her five slide long apologize, Ellie said she wasn’t aware of the history of the organization but added ‘ignorance is no excuse’ and that she should ‘have educated myself before getting involved’
Speaking out: She posted her apology on Monday morning to her Instagram page
Historians have previously pointed to how the organization was started in the late 1870s, which is decades before the KKK was formed in the early 1900s.
The Veiled Prophet Organization has, however, been criticized in the past for its racist history and ties to white supremacy.
The Veiled Prophet Organization was started as a secret society in St Louis back in 1878 by a group of wealth white businessmen.
Its founder Charles Slayback was a grain executive and former Confederate cavalryman.
The organization banned black and Jewish members until 1979.
It still holds its annual Veiled Prophet Ball each year, which is similar to a debutante event where members present their daughters to society.
During the ball, one girl is crowned Queen of Love and Beauty.
The winner is crowned by the ‘Veiled Prophet’ – a member of the organization who covers their face with a white veil so their identity remains secret. The member who is the Veiled Prophet is believed to change each year.
The ball’s website says 60 to 70 young women are chosen each year for ‘their outstanding community service efforts.
The history: While an historic Veiled Prophet image showing a person dressed in a hood and robe has drawn comparisons to the KKK, there are no known links between the organization and the white supremacists
The ceremony: The annual Veiled Prophet Ball is still held each year where the winner is crowned by a ‘Veiled Prophet’ (pictured on left) – a member of the organization who covers their face with a white veil so their identity remains secret
They ‘walk down the magnificent 72-foot-long Veiled Prophet runway in fashionable couture gowns, and in front of family and friends, are presented and honored for their contributions’.
Kemper, whose real name is Elizabeth, was a 19-year-old Princeton University student when she was crowned Queen of Love and Beauty in 1999.
The actress, who has starred in The Office and Bridesmaids, was the organization’s 105th winner.
She hails from one of Missouri’s wealthiest banking families and her father, David Kemper, is the chairman of Commerce Bank.
Twitter erupted after the resurfaced image of Kemper started going viral as some branded her a racist, white supremacist and a ‘KKK queen’.
They drew comparisons to her role in Kimmy Schmidt where she plays a young woman who escapes an Indiana cult and restarts her life in New York City.
Others, however, argued that Kemper had no known history of being racist.
Those with knowledge of the Veiled Prophet argued that it was a stretch to compare Kemper to a white supremacist just because she was crowned queen.
The organization still hold the ball and a parade each year but the latter has been rebranded as the ‘America’s Birthday Parade’.
‘Many things have changed since 1878, but the Veiled Prophet Organization will always continue its largest gift to the community: a spectacular parade that has become one of St. Louis’ most enduring family traditions,’ its website reads.