The Veiled Prophet is one of the city’s oldest organizations, and Kemper was named the Rookie Queen in 1999.
ST. LOUIS – Actress and St. Louis sweetheart Ellie Kemper is at the center of a new controversy over one of the city’s oldest traditions.
The “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “The Office” star was named the “Queen of Love and Beauty” at the 1999 Veiled Prophet’s Ball. Twitter users who discovered her over the weekend have called it “Queen of Love and Beauty” the “KKK prom queen” actress for her participation. She was 19 at the time.
“You know, you’re on Twitter and it’s a great place to kick off a hot shot. But that might not really delve into the complexity that a problem like this deserves, ”said Adam Kloeppe.
He took the plunge, however, as a public historian for the Missouri Historical Society.
Kemper is one of 130 other young women to wear the crown since the organization was founded over a year ago.
“They’re now trying to train themselves more as a side organization, to try to do good public works and things like that,” Kloppe said. “It has to do with the history of class leaders and money in St. Louis and these issues. You can’t get the race out of these issues.”
Inspired by the Mardi Gras brotherhoods of New Orleans and a character from a then popular poem, the Veiled Prophet’s Organization was created in response to the great labor strikes that shut down the city – and the threat of l union of black and white workers.
“In 1878, the city’s elites kind of wanted to take back power over the city. They wanted to show that they were still the people in control of the city,” Kloppe said.
The organization maintains that its founding purpose was to plan and organize events that would attract visitors to St. Louis.
Back when this sort of thing set the social calendar, VP’s debutante “queen of love and beauty” reigned supreme; and the VP parade was the event of the summer, for some in Saint-Louis.
“We just grew up realizing that it wasn’t for us,” activist and rapper Tef Poe said.
The VP has had its detractors from the start; protesters infiltrated the ball in the 1970s to “unveil” the Prophet’s figurehead as Monsanto CEO. For these critics, the tight-knit society of influential business leaders and politicians – and their traditions of secrecy, ritual and cultural appropriation – is a force for institutionalized racism in Saint-Louis.
“The past and the future are linked, and I think in St. Louis we need to do a better job of fighting that,” said Poe.
There is no known historical link with the KKK; Black members were banned until the 1970s.
“It is a mechanism that has played a role in promoting an oppressive and elitist culture in a city that only a certain type of person could involve. And the vestiges of that still exist today in the fact that it is a secret society, ”he said. “I think where we are now is that we have to completely unveil the prophet.”
The VP Fair was officially renamed Fair St. Louis, the parade is now called America’s Birthday Parade, but sometimes the natives of St. Louis go back to their old ways. Technically, the Veiled Prophet’s organization is still heavily involved in both events.
In an email, a spokesperson told 5 On Your Side: “The VP organization is dedicated to civic advancement, economic contributions and charitable causes in St. Louis. Our organization believes in and promotes inclusion, diversity and equality for this region. We absolutely reject racism. “
On the controversy around Kemper?
“You know, I don’t want to beat her too much,” Poe said. “I think it’s interesting that she was part of it which brought this conversation back into the news cycle. I vividly remember tweeting about this. We organized demonstrations at the Veiled Prophet’s Ball. And, you know, really, people didn’t care.
“The Kemper family is big in St. Louis,” Kloeppe said. “Did she really know the history of this organization?” I can’t say for sure. But the story of the prophet is not something that many Saint-Louis know. You might see the parade at the start of the Saint Louis Fair, and it could be most of the Saint Louis’ entire exposure to the Veiled Prophet. And in this case, these are the guys who put on this fun parade for everyone, right? And there’s a much more complex story out there that somehow deserves to be explored. “
The Veiled Prophet Organization made the following statement:
After reflection, the Veiled Prophet Organization recognizes our past and recognizes the criticisms leveled at us. We sincerely apologize for the actions and images in our history. Additionally, our lack of cultural awareness was and is bad. We are committed to change, allowing our actions to match the organization we are today.
Today’s VP organization categorically rejects racism in all its forms. Today’s Vice President is committed to the diversity and equity of our members, community service initiatives and support to the region. Our hope is that as we move 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 to making St Louis a better place for everyone to live.