ST. LOUIS — There are a lot of questions surrounding the Veiled Prophet organization in St. Louis. For decades, they organized a high-profile Independence Day weekend fair and parade.

The often controversial group has excluded women and people of color in the past. The exclusive Veiled Prophet Ball has been a target for protesters. The group now has community service initiatives for the young women who will be presented at the ball. 

The Veiled Prophet is a social organization in St. Louis, Missouri, founded in 1878 by Charles and Alonzo Slayback. It is known for its annual parade and ball, which feature a mysterious figure known as the Veiled Prophet, who is chosen from among the organization’s members.

The Veiled Prophet Parade is held each year on the 4th of July and features floats, marching bands, and other performances. It is one of the largest parades in the St. Louis area and attracts thousands of spectators.

As for the Veiled Prophet Ball, the location is not publicly disclosed. Invitations to the event include the secret location. In 1878, the ball was held at the Chamber of Commerce.

Stan “The Man” Musial, baseball Cardinal great, who will be playing his last Major League game tomorrow against Cincinnati, escorts his daughter, Geraldine, and his wife Lillian to The Veiled Prophet Ball, Sept. 28, 1963 in St. Louis, starting the city’s fall social season. Musial holds more records than any active Major League baseball player. (AP Photo)

Protests over the ball occurred in the 1970s and more recently. The organization was previously open only to white men, and women were not allowed to join.

It faced accusations of racism and was forced to relocate from a city-owned auditorium. Black men were not allowed to be members of the organization until 1979.

According to an article by The Nation, the first Veiled Prophet Parade was held to mark the anniversary of the suppression of the largest worker’s strike in St. Louis history.

The strike was a movement that demanded fair wages, an eight-hour workday, and an end to child labor.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch supports this claim in their article. They state that in 1877, less than a fifth of St. Louis’ workforce wore suits and ties. The rest worked for 36 railroads, 32 breweries, 28 iron foundries, 26 wheat mills, 500 textile makers, and other dirty industries. Many earned less than a dollar per day.

On July 27, more than 600 people marched to the strike headquarters at Schuler’s Hall in St. Louis. 75 of the strikers were apprehended by police, while the others fled.

The strike ended when federal troops regained control of the East St. Louis yards the following day. In response, a group of successful businesspeople formed the Veiled Prophet organization to set up a social order.

The association held its first parade on October 8, 1878. The floats were purchased from Mardi Gras in New Orleans. That year’s Veiled Prophet was Police Commissioner John G. Priest, who had assisted in the suppression of the strike.

Charles and Alonzo Slayback were brothers from New Orleans. Charles was a wealthy grain dealer, and Alonzo was a lawyer and former Confederate officer.

They were key organizers of the Mysterious Order of the Veiled Prophet, a secret club of wealthy men in St. Louis, in 1878.

Charles suggested starting the organization to help the city’s Agricultural and Mechanical Fair, held annually, get back on its feet. Alonzo added the idea of a prophet and a procession.

They held a grand ball for upper society. Susie, Alonzo’s daughter, was the first “belle of the ball,” giving rise to the yearly VP queen.

National celebrity controversy

Due to its controversial past, actress Ellie Kemper, the 1999 VP queen, issued an apology on June 8, 2021, for her role as queen when she was a teenager. Kemper is an actress from St. Louis known for her roles on NBC’s The Office, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Bridesmaids.

A 2014 article about the group in The Atlantic resurfaced in 2021. Many fans learned that Kemper was the queen of the VP Ball in 1999, when she was 19. This put the organization in the spotlight, with fans taking to Twitter to express their opinions.

The Veiled Prophet (VP) Organization issued a statement acknowledging its past and the criticisms that have been leveled against it. The group also apologized for the actions and images from its history.

“Archie” the inflatable bald eagle.

Kemper apologized to those she had let down and stated that she was not aware of the group’s history at the time, but that ignorance is no excuse. She referred to the group as “unquestionably racist” in an Instagram post.

The parade has been renamed “America’s Birthday Parade” and no longer features the Veiled Prophet, instead having a large inflatable bald eagle named Archibald.

What about the VP Ball?

There is no mention of the ball on the Veiled Prophet organization’s website, which lists events and volunteer opportunities.

Town & Style magazine of St. Louis featured the foundation in a news article in 2022, including a photo of the Veiled Prophet Ball from 2021, but provided no further information about the event.

Community service

Over the past two decades, the group has been growing its service projects. They have 255 projects that have been filled by over 6,100 volunteer positions since beginning in 2003. Some of them include renovating and repairing 40 homes for Beyond Housing. Packing more than 40,000 meals for Food Outreach. St. Louis beautification and restoration projects. Plus, providing over 24,000 hours of service to the St. Louis Community.

The VP Fashion Show began in 2014 to benefit the Community Service Initiative. The show promotes volunteers, raises money to expand CSI projects, and benefits charity partners.