Why People Are Saying Ellie Kemper Was A 'KKK Princess' As A Teen

Photo: RACHEL LUNA/GETTY IMAGES
Ellie Kemper

Ellie Kemper, star of beloved comedies "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and "The Office," spent the last few days trending on Twitter for some not-so-funny reasons after a photo surfaced of her being crowned the Queen of Love and Beauty at the 1999 Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis, Missouri.

The photo, originally featured in an article from that same year in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was captioned "Elizabeth Claire Kemper, as the 1999 Veiled Prophet Queen of Love and Beauty, is attended by her pages."

The then-19-year-old Princeton University freshman was referred to as "the 105th young woman to be so honored by the Veiled Prophet organization."

What is the Veiled Prophet organization?

The Veiled Prophet, a secret society founded by grain executive and former Confederate cavalryman Charles Slayback in 1878.

The organization was created in response to the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, in which railroad workers brought train cars to a stop all across the country to protest unfair pay and awful working conditions. Civil unrest was rapidly growing, and race relations between Black and white workers were actually progressing in a positive way, often working together to protest their awful situations.

Thomas Spencer wrote in "The St. Louis Veiled Prophet Celebration: Power On Parade 1877-1995," that the primary goal of the organization’s events was to take back the public stage from populist demands for social and economic justice.

The society is well known for a long history of enforcing existing power structures, class hierarchies and racist beliefs, banning both Black and Jewish people from joining for more than 100 years, only finally allowing a select few to join as of 1979.

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Was Ellie Kemper really crowned KKK Princess or Queen?

While Kemper was not crowned either "KKK Princess" or "Queen of the KKK,” she was crowned the Prophet Queen of Love and Beauty by a historically racist and problematic group.

The very first Veiled Prophet, or the leader of the organization, was featured as an illustration in an 1878 edition of the Missouri Republican, and looks eerily similar to someone dressed in the garb of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

Photo: By unknown - scan to Wikipedia from a public domain document pubished prior to 1923, PD-US

In light of the oppressive origins and the enforcement of racial beliefs and class hegemony, and it’s clear why people might assume the two are one and the same.

While the Veiled Prophet has no direct relation to the hate group, the group served as a direct influence in the creation of the KKK, which was formed nearly four decades later in 1915.

The two then seem to have fed off each other, and even though the Veiled Prophet organization did eventially open its membership to include Black and Jewish members, there is no erasing the history and position it held in the past.

In fact, those same people who followed and believed in the old values of the organization still remain in power, changing the name of the Veiled Prophet Ball to Fair Saint Louis in 1992 in an attempt to erase the past for fear of becoming socially exiled.

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What is the Veiled Prophet Ball?

The Veiled Prophet Ball is an debutante ball held annually by the organization, and it known to be an odd affair.

Each year, one man would be named to reign over the event and related activities as the "Veiled Prophet of Khorassan," The Veiled Prophet himself would then select five out of more than 50 debutantes to serve as Special Maids of Honor at the Veiled Prophet's Court of Honor, with one being elevated to the status of Queen of Love and Beauty, as Ellie Kemper was.

After the selection process, the Queen would be given an assortment of gifts, such as a silver tiara or pearl necklaces, and the night would continue on.

In the past, both he ball and the parade held by the group earlier in the year featured racist caricatures of all ethnic groups and teased at the plights of the working men who protested the horrid working conditions.

This has changed, however, and both now involve the same kind of activities you would expect at any other fair or festival, including fireworks, food and such.

Upon learning of her past involvement in the society, people were quick to butcher Ellie Kemper on Twitter, seemingly without having done much research on the subject.

Kemper was called a “KKK queen” and “prom queen at the St. Louis racism convention.”

Others quickly put those people in their place, making jokes about their statements as conspiracy theories and suggesting they educate themselves before jumping to conclusions.

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Then there are those who have brought up additional Information regarding Kemper’s family lineage, including the fact that she comes from one of Missouri's wealthiest Missouran families.

And some were quick to point out how ironic this information is in light of her role in "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."

Kemper has no history of racist or problematic beliefs besides her involvement in the Veiled Prophet Ball as a teenager, and some are defending even that, claiming that given her young age at the time she might have been put up to it by her family while she still under their influence.

Kemper has yet to issue a public statement on the matter.

Either way, it seems like another case of digging up the past in an attempt to hurt someone’s credibility and reputation without a full understanding of the situation.

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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice and relationships.