Actress Ellie Kemper, best known for her roles in “The Office” and “The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt,” has been the center of a Twitter firestorm this week due to her past involvement in the St. Louis Veiled Prophet Ball.
In 1999, Kemper was crowned the ball’s queen of love and beauty. Originally from Ladue, Missouri in St. Louis County, Kemper is from a well-to-do family and the organization has a history of reinforcing the ideals of a “benevolent cultural elite.”
But recently, the organization has been compared to the KKK on Twitter because it did not allow black members until the 1970s. It was originally founded in 1878 as a fraternal order for white elites that offered events for the working class, but its history is far more complex than Twitter users may know.
The Mystical Order of the Veiled Profit was based on the epic hero, the Veiled Prophet of Khorassan. This historical warrior was a religious leader from the Middle East who became the subject of a Thomas Moore poem, “Lalla Rookh,” in 1817. Some records state that he wore a veil after being hideously injured in battle, others say he covered himself to conceal his “luminous” presence. His followers believed that he could perform magic and that he was a manifestation of god.
Being based on a legendary hero from another culture, the organization was not created in the name of racism or division. It was merely founded before desegregation, and so, catered to the white people who created it. After the civil rights movement, black members were eventually allowed to join, as was common with many other segregated societies like the Freemasons. By the time Ellie Kemper attended the annual Veiled Prophet ball and was crowned queen, black members had been admitted for 2 decades.
Despite its history of division, The Veiled Profit Organization has committed itself to community service, and in modern times, vows that it is “working to make St. Louis a better place to live for all,” via their Veiled Profit Foundation. The ball is still a private event that includes a pageant and reception, but honors 60 or 70 young ladies “for their outstanding community service efforts.”
Even so, these philanthropic actions have been downplayed, and the history of excluding black members until modern times has led some people to confuse them with the Klu Klux Klan, a white supremacist group expressly formed to suppress the rights of newly freed slaves. The state of current race relations does not differentiate between the two organizations despite their opposing origins. This correlation has some Twitter users decrying Ellie Kemper for being an actual member of the KKK.
The “veil” worn to signify the memory of the Prophet of Khorassan has been mistaken as a KKK hood. It doesn’t matter that The Veiled Prophets were in existence before the Klu Klux Klan formed, or that the garb is for religious purposes (not concealment), the pictures being circulated are leading the current narrative.
To make matters worse, the Twitter mob also started attacking Kemper for her Ivy League education. Identity politics drove the conversation to assume that her alma mater, Princeton University, is a “hotbed for racism.”
But according to Princeton’s inclusion report, 2016 was their most diverse year ever, with 43 percent of the class comprised of students of color. In addition, they have pledged to “be a truly diverse community in which individuals of every gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status can flourish equally. We have made significant progress in recent years, especially in the diversity of our undergraduate student body.”
Other Twitter members claimed that rich people shouldn’t be movie stars because it’s “unethical,” and correlated being rich to racism. Another Twitter member brought the topic full circle declaring the Veiled Prophets as a “KKK for rich people.”
These ideas have gained plenty of likes and shares, but the full scope of their implications overlooks the freedoms that allow Americans to specifically make their own fortune regardless of what background they have. Ellie Kemper was born to a rich family, but she chose to apply to Princeton, earn her own way, and find work as beloved characters in shows with diverse casts.
Based on her work alone, one may question the validity of Twitter claims—which offer little to no context, or credibility—that Kemper is affiliated with the KKK, or that the Veiled Prophet Organization is a white supremacist group. Knowing the full history of the Veiled Prophets themselves offers more insight into their meaning, evolution, and why women continue to attend their debutante ball.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.