ST. LOUIS – The Veiled Prophet Organization is apologizing for its controversial past after actress Ellie Kemper called the group “unquestionable 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 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 about Kemper’s connection as the queen of the VP Ball in 1999 when she was 19. Fans quickly took to Twitter to comment.
Yesterday, Kemper released a statement on Instagram apologizing to the people she disappointed. She also said she was not aware of the group’s history at the time, but that ignorance is no excuse.
“The century-old (VP) organization had an unquestionably racist, sexist, and elitist past. I was not aware of this history at the time but ignorance is no excuse…,” Kemper wrote. “I unequivocally deplore, denounce, and reject white supremacy…(I will) use my privilege in support of the better society I think we’re capable of becoming.”
The VP organization, widely known for its Independence Day parades in St. Louis, was formed in the late 1870s in response to a national railroad strike that saw whites and blacks marching in protest together in the public square, said Webster University historian Dr. Kristen Anderson, who teaches a course on St. Louis history. St. Louis elites formed the VP to promote St. Louis and also to keep an upper hand, she said.
“It’s a way of opening that conversation up, which is a good thing: to make more people aware of it and get those conversations started,” Anderson said.
Through the years, VP has put on the Fourth of July fireworks and the VP Fair, the predecessor to the current-day Fair St. Louis, along with the debutante ball.
The organization selects a prominent St. Louisan every year to act as the Veiled Prophet, whose identity is kept secret. The organization was the target of protests in the 60s and 70s. There were no black members until 1979.
The organization’s roots have created the issues for Kemper, Dr. Anderson said.
“It’s definitely an organization that has a history in the racial and labor strife of the late 19th century,” she said. “Part of what they’re doing with that is trying to reassert elite dominance over the use of public space. Kind of demonstrating what they see as the proper order of things: they will be the ones belonging to the organization, riding in the parades, while the white and black working-class St. Louisans will be back in their proper place as the audience.”
For its part, the Veiled Prophet Organization acknowledged its “lack of cultural awareness” and has vowed to help St. Louis become a better place for all.
Here is the group’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 Prophets Organization
The Post-Dispatch also wrote an article in 2019 titled: Veiled Prophet: Symbol of wealth, power, and to some, racism. It reported the ball was met with protests in the 1970s and in recent years as well. It also had to move from a city-owned auditorium over allegations of racism. The organization didn’t include any black men until 1979.