ST. LOUIS — An elite St. Louis society that barred Black members until 1979 is apologizing after actress Ellie Kemper called the group “unquestionably racist” in an Instagram post. This all comes after the St. Louis native was caught in a Twitter firestorm over her ties to the organization.
The statement says that, after reflection, the Veiled Prophet (VP) Organization acknowledges its past and recognizes the criticism levied its way. The group also apologized for the actions and images from its history.
The Veiled Prophet Organization became the center of attention recently after Ellie Kemper fans found a 2014 article in The Atlantic on the group. They then learned the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” star was crowned Queen of Love and Beauty at the Fair Saint Louis in 1999. Up until 1992, the celebration had been called the Veiled Prophet Fair, an event put on by some of the city’s wealthiest families.
Fans quickly took to Twitter to comment, with some Twitter users labelling her a “KKK Princess.”
There is no known affiliation between the Ku Klux Klan and the Veiled Prophet Organization, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, however writer Devin Thomas O’Shea said in a 2019 interview that for many Black St. Louis residents in the late 19th Century the covered face and wizard-like costume of the first Veiled Prophet would have been “very clearly decipherable as a first wave Ku Klux Klansman.”
On Monday, Schmidt released a statement on Instagram apologizing to the people she disappointed. She wrote in part:
Hi guys- 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. I was not aware of this history at the time, but ignorance is no excuse.Ellie Kemper
The VP Organization’s statement said, “our lack of cultural awareness was and is wrong. We are committed to change, allowing our actions to match the organization we are today.”
The first Veiled Prophet celebration took place in October of 1878 after the group was founded by a former Confederate officer named Alonzo Slayback, according to the Post-Dispatch.
The VP ball, which was the subject of protests in the 1960s and 70s, had to move out of an auditorium owned by the city after residents accused the organization as elitist and racist, decrying the VP’s refusal to admit Black members, the paper reported.
Here is the Veiled Prophet Organization’s entire statement:
Upon reflection, the Veiled Prophet Organization acknowledges our past and recognizes the criticism levied our way. We sincerely apologize for the actions and images from our history. Additionally, our lack of cultural awareness was and is wrong. We are committed to change, allowing our actions to match the organization we are today.
The VP Organization of today categorically rejects racism, in any form. Today’s VP is committed to diversity and equity in our membership, community service initiatives and support for the region. Our hope is that moving forward, the community sees us for who we are today and together we can move this region forward for everyone.
We are, and always will be committed to the success of the region and making St Louis a better place to live for all.Veiled Prophet Organization