Ellie Kemper Apologizes For Participation In Controversial Pageant

by Erica Gerald Mason
Ellie Kemper/Instagram and Tasos Katopodis/Getty

The actress spoke about her 1999 participation in a Missouri ball with a history linked to white supremacy

Maya Angelou once famously said: when you know better, you do better. And so Ellie Kemper took to Instagram to apologize about her past participation in a controversial Missouri debutante ball. The Office star drew controversy last week when photos surfaced of her being crowned the “Queen of Love and Beauty” at the Fair Saint Louis (now called the Veiled Prophet Ball) in 1999.

It started (like most things do these days), with a tweet. “Every once in a while I remember that the Veiled Prophet Ball exists and that everything True Detective season 1 was about is real.”

The Veiled Prophet Organization was originally co-founded in the late 1800s by former Confederate officer Charles Slayback and other white St. Louisans, who only permitted white people to participate up until 1979.

Previous reports (incorrectly) reported the organization had ties to the KKK — and that Kemper was crowned ‘Queen of the KKK’, neither of which is true.

“Hi guys, when I was 19 years old, I decided to participate in a debutante ball in my hometown,” she began. “The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist and elitist past. 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.”

The actress continued, “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.”

She continues, “I believe strongly in the values of kindness, integrity and inclusiveness. 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,” she wrote. “Thanks for reading this.”

Some people wonder if the focus actually belongs on Kemper. “It’s fascinating that people are focused on whether Ellie Kemper was deb in a racist group at 19, & not whether her father & uncle, both major bank CEOs, belonged to that organization,” one person posted on Twitter.

The Veiled Prophet Organization offered a statement to People in which it condemned racism.

“The VP organization is dedicated to civic progress, economic contributions and charitable causes in St. Louis,” the statement began. “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.”