Actress Ellie Kemper has apologized for taking part in a 1999 Missouri pageant as a teenager that once banned black members and celebrated the wealthy white elite. Apologizing to her fans, the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star said that she was unaware at that time of the pageant's "racist, sexist and elitist past."
Kemper made the apology in a lengthy Instagram post on Monday. The actress tendered an apology after a photo of herself at the 1999 Veiled Prophet Ball in St Louis, Missouri, resurfaced on Twitter last week, prompting immense criticism. The Veiled Prophet Organization has been criticized in the past for its racist history and ties to white supremacy.
Kemper took to Instagram on Monday to apologize to her fans and said that 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.
"I was not aware of the 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," she continued. "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."
She said that "a lot of the forces behind the criticism (she has faced) are forces that I've sent my life supporting and agreeing with".
Kemper went on to apologize for those she had "disappointed." "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."
Unlucky Victim of Trolls
Kemper became the subject of trolls and was criticized after a 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 photograph dated back to 1999 but she never imagined that she would court controversy for participating and winning the pageant after more than two decades. A 2014 article in The Atlantic described the ball as "a parade founded by white elites in 1877 to protect their position".
The Veiled Prophet Organization was formed as a secret society in St Louis back in 1878 by a group of rich white businessmen. Its founder Charles Slayback was a grain executive and former Confederate cavalryman.
The organization banned black and Jewish members until 1979. 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.
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. She was the organization's 105th winner. The actress hails from one of Missouri's wealthiest banking families and her father, David Kemper, is the chairman of Commerce Bank.
Despite all the criticism, most believe that Kemper had no known history of being racist herself. On the other hand, the pageant is still held each year, but has been rebranded as the 'America's Birthday Parade.'