Untangling Ellie Kemper’s 1999 Veiled Prophet Pageant Controversy

Ellie KemperRich Fury/Getty Images

Ellie Kemper is under fire for her past participation in a pageant hosted by an organization with a controversial history.

The Bridesmaids actress became a trending topic on Twitter after a 1999 newspaper article resurfaced on social media, detailing her win at the Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis, Miss. According to the article, Kemper, who was 19 at the time and has yet to publicly address the scandal, was crowned the “Queen of Love and Beauty” at the event, making her the 105th “young woman to be so honored by the Veiled Prophet organization.”

Per the St. Louis government website, the Veiled Prophet organization was founded in 1878 by “white male community leaders,” noting that “the Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophet of the Enchanted Realm sought to recreate the Mardi Gras type of community-wide celebration.”

“This gala came to include pageantry, costumes, and a parade with floats,” the description continued in part, adding, “The traditional VP celebration has represented for St. Louisans a perceived link between different components of the community in a holiday celebration, while also reinforcing the notion of a benevolent cultural elite.”

Over the years, historian Thomas Spencer was among those to take a closer look at the organization in The St. Louis Veiled Prophet Celebration: Power on Parade. And, according to a 2014 article published by The Atlantic, Jewish and Black Americans were allegedly not “allowed” in the organization for “many years. Additionally, The Atlantic cites Spencer as describing there being “public backlash against upsetting racial stereotypes depicted on the floats” in an annual gathering put on by the organization.

In 1992, the organization changed the event’s name from the Veiled Prophet parade to Fair St. Louis. The event is still held to mark Fourth of July. 

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As the details of Kemper’s participation in the pageant resurfaced, many social media users took to Twitter to share their reactions. And while Kemper is facing criticism for her ties to the Veiled Prophet organization, The Office alum is also receiving support, with reporter Sam Thielman tweeting, “People are falsely saying Ellie Kemper was in a KKK beauty pageant. The org reinforces the racist power structures that birthed it but also it’s not the KKK and was accepting Black members by the 70’s.”

The organization, which has no known ties to the KKK, addressed the online uproar in a statement to E! News.

“The VP organization is dedicated to civic progress, economic contributions and charitable causes in St. Louis,” it read in part. “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.”

The Veiled Prophet organization’s statement continued, “Hosting two major free events in St. Louis, including America’s Birthday Parade and Fair St. Louis. Both events reflect the diversity of the St. Louis community and include a wide variety of partners—such as PrideFest and the Annie Malone Parade.”

E! News has reached out to Kemper’s rep but have yet to hear back.

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