- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Ellie Kemper has responded to a viral Twitter controversy that linked the actress with a St. Louis debutante ball run by an organization with a racist past.
“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,” posted the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star on Instagram in reference to the Veiled Prophet Ball, run by the Veiled Prophet Organization, which was founded in 1878. “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 has dispensed unequal justice and unequal rewards.”
Kemper continued that the natural temptation when one becomes the subject of online criticism is “to tell yourself that your detractors are getting it all wrong.” However, she realized last week that she agreed with and has supported the same forces behind the criticism lobbied against her.
“I believe strongly in the values of kindness, integrity, and inclusiveness,” noted Kemper. “I try to live my life 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. I want to apologize to the people I’ve disappointed, and I promise that moving forward I will listen, continue to educate myself, and use my privilege in support of the better society I think we’re capable of becoming.”
The controversy started May 31 when a Twitter user with the handle @WB_Baskerville posted a series of photos from the Veiled Prophet Ball with a personal take: “Every once in a while I remember that the Veiled Prophet Ball exists and that everything True Detective season 1 was about is real.” After another user asked about the ball, @hannastasia responded by offering that it is “a fancy event put on by our local KKK, of which Ellie Kemper was once the Queen of Love and Beauty.” She then linked to an article in The Atlantic published on Sept. 2, 2014, that detailed the Veiled Prophet origin story.
The organization doesn’t have any known ties to the Ku Klux Klan, though The Atlantic article does reference the first image of the Veiled Prophet as being “strikingly similar” in appearance to a Klansman. (Though the Klan did not become known for such garb until years later, in the early 1900s.) But by midday on May 31, Kemper had become a trending topic on Twitter. Her affiliation with the ball has long been public — there were articles published at the time of her crowning in 1999 along with images from the event — but the stir resuscitated an online dialogue about the organization that backed the ball.
Veiled Prophet does have a racist and classist past, as the secretive society was led by “white male community leaders” and did not welcome in Black members until 1979, a century after it was founded by former Confederate officer Alonzo Slayback. There is still a ball and even a parade, but the controversial history remains. “Veiled Prophet: Symbol of wealth, power and, to some, racism,” reads a 2019 headline from local newspaper the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
After seeing Kemper’s apology, @WB_Baskerville responded Monday afternoon on Twitter, posting, “I have made the decision to accept Ellie’s apology. Everyone leave her alone now.”
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day