Ellie Kemper has responded after an article about her being crowned the Queen of Love and Beauty at the Veiled Prophet Ball in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri in 1999 went viral last week, prompting the actress to post a statement to Instagram on Monday, June 7. "When I was 19 years old, I decided to participate in a debutante ball in my hometown," her message began.
"The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist and elitist past. I was not aware of the history at the time, but ignorance is no excuse," she continued. "I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved." The Veiled Prophet Ball is an annual debutante ball hosted by the Veiled Prophet Organization, an exclusive group that was founded in St. Louis in the late 1800s in response to major labor strikes that shut down the city. The organization did not allow Black members until 1979.
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In her post, Kemper, who comes from a wealthy and prominent Missouri family, explained that "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." Ultimately, she realized that "a lot of the forces behind the criticism are forces that I've spent my life supporting and agreeing with." She wrote that she believes "strongly" in the values of kindness, integrity and inclusiveness and tries to live "in accordance with these values."
"If my experience is an indication that organizations and institutions with pasts that fall short of these beliefs should be held to account, then I have to see this experience in a positive light," Kemper concluded before apologizing "to the people I've disappointed" and promising 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."
According to St. Louis' Cultural Resources Office, the Veiled Prophet Organization was created by "white male community leaders," and the goal of the ball was "reinforcing the notion of the benevolent elite." The Veiled Prophet Ball is presided over by the Veiled Prophet, and original imagery shows the figure wearing white robes with a pointed hat and holding a gun. This imagery prompted many people on Twitter to believe that the organization has ties to the Ku Klux Klan, though there is no known connection.
In a statement to USA Today last week, 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 continued. "We absolutely reject racism and have never partnered or associated with any organization that harbors these beliefs."