*A 1999 photograph was unveiled purporting to show actress Ellie Kemper, then 19-years-old, serving as the “Queen of Love and Beauty” at the Fair Saint Louis—previously known as the Veiled Prophet Ball. Twitter users were quick to point out that the annual event, which takes place every December in the star’s native Missouri, was once exclusively held for the city’s elite, and for white people only.
According to a 2014 article in The Atlantic, the event “emphasized the existing power structure” of the city when it debuted as the Veiled Prophet Ball back in 1878. African-Americans and Jewish-Americans were barred from joining the Veiled Prophet Organization, founded by prominent St. Louisans. According to tradition, an anonymous Veiled Prophet, selected by wealthy and well-connected locals, would name the Queen of Love and Beauty at each ball. A December 1999 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article named Kemper as “the 105th young woman to be so honored by the Veiled Prophet organization.”
Following a series of protests about its exclusivity, the organization eventually allowed African-Americans to join in 1979. Changes were also made to the name in 1992, with organizers swapping out Veiled Prophet Ball for the less controversial Fair Saint Louis. The ball continues to be held in December of each year, while its parade now taking place over the Fourth of July weekend.
The ball used to include floats featuring racist caricatures of different ethnic groups. The fair now looks like any other celebration of all things Americana, including fireworks, abundant food and music.
Below, PBS offers more details about the history behind the Veiled Prophet: