Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Ellie Kemper has apologized for participating in a 1999 Missouri beauty pageant that once banned black members and celebrated the wealthy white elite.
The 41-year-old actress spoke out Monday after a photo of her being crowned winner of the Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis when she was 19 years old went 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 of the organization’s past as a teenager was no excuse.
“When I was 19 years old, I decided to participate in a debutante ball in my hometown. The age-old organization that organized the debutante ball had an undeniably racist, sexist and elitist past,” she wrote.
Ellie Kemper spoke out Monday after a photo (above) of her being crowned winner of the St. Louis-based Veiled Prophet Ball when she was 19 went viral on Twitter.
Sorry: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Ellie Kemper apologized Monday for her participation in the Veiled Prophet Ball when she was 19 years old
‘I didn’t know that history then, but ignorance is no excuse. I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved.
“I unequivocally regret, approve and reject white supremacy. At the same time, I recognize that because of my race and 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 opponents are completely wrong. But at some point last week I realized that many of the forces behind the criticism are forces that I have spent my life supporting and agreeing to.’
Kemper apologized to those she had “disappointed.”
The controversy erupted a week ago after the photo of her being crowned the winner resurfaced and started to spread on social media.
The image, which originally appeared in the St. Louis Dispatch newspaper, sparked controversy after an individual called Kemper the “KKK Queen” for being crowned the winner.
Although a historical depiction of a veiled prophet with a person wearing a hood and robes 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 student at Princeton University when she was crowned Queen of Love and Beauty in 1999
The latest: During her five-slide apology, Ellie said she was unaware of the organization’s history, but added that “ignorance is no excuse” and that she “should have retrained before getting involved”
Speaking: She posted her apology on her Instagram page on Monday morning
Historians have previously pointed out how the organization was founded in the late 1870s, which is decades before the KKK was founded in the early 1900s.
However, the Veiled Prophet Organization has been criticized in the past for its racist history and ties to white supremacy.
The Veiled Prophet Organization was founded in 1878 as a secret society in St. Louis by a group of wealthy white businessmen.
Founder Charles Slayback was a grain manager and former Confederate cavalryman.
The organization banned black and Jewish members until 1979.
It still holds its annual Veiled Prophet Ball every year, similar to a debutante event where members present their daughters to society.
At the ball, a girl is crowned queen of love and beauty.
The winner is crowned by the ‘Veiled Prophet’ – a member of the organization who covers their faces with a white veil to keep their identities secret. The member who is the veiled prophet is supposed to change every year.
The prom’s website states that 60 to 70 young women are chosen each year for “their extraordinary efforts in community work.”
The actress, who starred in The Office and Bridesmaids, was the organization’s 105th winner. She comes from one of Missouri’s wealthiest banking families and her father, David Kemper, is the chairman of Commerce Bank
The History: While a historical image of a veiled prophet with a person wearing 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 every year, with the winner being crowned by a ‘Veiled Prophet’ (pictured left) – a member of the organization who covers their faces with a white veil to keep their identities secret
They “walk the beautiful 72-meter Veiled Prophet runway in fashionable couture dresses, and in front of family and friends, they are presented and honored for their contributions.”
Kemper, whose real name is Elizabeth, was a 19-year-old student at Princeton University when she was crowned Queen of Love and Beauty in 1999.
The actress, who starred in The Office and Bridesmaids, was the organization’s 105th winner.
She comes from one of Missouri’s wealthiest banking families and her father, David Kemper, is the chairman of Commerce Bank.
Twitter erupted after the re-emerged image of Kemper went viral when some labeled her a racist, white supremacist and a “KKK queen.”
They made comparisons to her role in Kimmy Schmidt, where she plays a young woman who escapes an Indiana cult and starts her life in New York City over again.
However, others argued that Kemper had no known history of being racist.
Those with knowledge of the Veiled Prophet argued that comparing Kemper to a white supremacist just because she was crowned queen was going too far.
The organization still holds the ball and parade every year, but the latter has been renamed the “America’s Birthday Parade.”
“Many things have changed since 1878, but the Veiled Prophet Organization will always continue to give its greatest gift to the community: a spectacular parade that has become one of St. Louis’s most enduring family traditions,” the website reads.