Ellie Kemper Apologizes for Past Involvement in Controversial 1999 Debutante Ball

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Ellie Kemper
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Writers Guild of America, East

Ellie Kemper has addressed the criticism she's received on social media after a newspaper article on her being crowned the 1999 Queen of Love and Beauty at the Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis, Missouri, when she was 19 years old resurfaced.

According to the St. Louis government website, the Veiled Prophet is an organization that was created in 1878 "by white male community leaders" ... who "sought to recreate the Mardi Gras type of community-wide celebration." But the organization has come under fire due to allegations of racism, and has been met with protests since the '70s. The organization previously denied it's racist in a statement.

On Monday, 41-year-old Kemper apologized for her past involvement in the pageant.

"The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist and elitist past," Kemper wrote in an Instagram post. "I was not aware of the history at the time, but ignorance is not an 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 dispensed unequal justice and unequal rewards."

Kemper said she is learning from the experience.

"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," she acknowledged. "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. 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," she concluded.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star got support from her celebrity pals in the comments, including her The Office co-star Mindy Kaling, Katie Couric and Wendi McLendon-Covey, who all posted heart emojis in response.

According to a 2019 article by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, members of the Veiled Prophet didn't include any Black men until 1979. A 2014 Atlantic article that takes a look at the history of the annual Fair Saint Louis -- which was formerly called the Veiled Prophet Fair -- notes that according to historian Thomas Spencer, the initial purpose of the event was a response to labor unrest in the city involving cooperation between white and Black workers. The Atlantic states that according to Spencer's book, The St. Louis Veiled Prophet Celebration: Power on Parade 1877-1995, the parade was initially meant "to reinforce the values of the elite on the working class of the city," and there was also public backlash against "upsetting racial stereotypes depicted on the floats" during the parade.

In a statement to The Huffington Post, the Veiled Prophet organization vehemently denied it was racist.

"The VP organization is dedicated to civic progress, economic contributions and charitable causes in St. Louis," the statement reads. "Our organization believes in and promotes inclusion, diversity and equality for this region. We absolutely reject racism and have never partnered or associated with any organization that harbors these beliefs."

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