Ellie Kemper—star of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as well as The Office—is denouncing a beauty pageant she won as a teenager. In an Instagram post Monday, Kemper disavows the Veiled Prophet Ball of St. Louis, at which she was crowned Queen of Love and Beauty in 1999, reports BuzzFeed. "The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist and elitist past," writes Kemper, who won the pageant at age 19, when she was a freshman at Princeton. "I was not aware of this history at the time, but ignorance is no excuse." As USA Today explains, the Veiled Prophet Organization sprang up in the late 1800s as the creation of wealthy white business owners in St. Louis. It was founded by a former Confederate officer and banned Black and Jewish people from joining until the '70s, notes BuzzFeed.
"I unequivocally deplore, denounce and reject white supremacy," writes Kemper, who had been vilified online when photos of her participation in the pageant surfaced over the Memorial Day weekend. "At the same time, I acknowledge that because of my face and my privilege, I am the beneficiary of a system that has dispensed unequal justice and unequal rewards." Critics equated the group (and Kemper) with the KKK, perhaps in part because of the rituals involved. As USA Today describes the pageant, "the daughter of one of the group's members is crowned queen by a 'Veiled Prophet,' a secret member who wears white robes and a white veil covering his face." Kemper comes from a wealthy local family, and her father, David, is a banker. The actress explicitly apologized in her statement to "the people I've disappointed." (Read more Ellie Kemper stories.)