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Rachel Dolezal’s world crumbles after racial identity flap

By

Associated Press


Published:
06:32 EST, 16 June 2015

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Updated:
06:34 EST, 16 June 2015

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Rachel Dolezal carefully constructed a life as a black civil rights activist in the last decade in the inland Northwest, but that world is falling apart following the disclosure by her parents that she was a white woman who for years has posed as African-American.

Dolezal has resigned as president of the local branch of the NAACP, lost her position as a part-time African studies instructor at a local university, lost her job as a freelance newspaper columnist and become the subject of a probe by the city Ethics Commission.

The furor has touched off national debate over racial identity and divided the NAACP itself.

FILE - In this March 2, 2015, file photo, Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, poses for a photo in her Spokane, Wash., home. Dolez...

FILE – In this March 2, 2015, file photo, Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, poses for a photo in her Spokane, Wash., home. Dolezal resigned Monday, June 15, 2015, amid a furor over racial identity that erupted when her parents came forward to say she has been posing as black for years when she is actually white. (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review via AP, File)

“In the eye of this current storm, I can see that a separation of family and organizational outcomes is in the best interest of the NAACP,” Dolezal, who was elected the Spokane chapter’s president last fall, wrote on the group’s Facebook page Monday. “Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights.”

Dolezal, a 37-year-old woman with a light brown complexion and dark curly hair, graduated from historically black Howard University and was married to a black man. For years, she publicly described herself as black and complained of being the victim of racial hatred in the heavily white region.

The uproar that led to her resignation began last week after Dolezal’s parents said their daughter is white with a trace of Native American heritage. They produced photos of her as a girl with fair skin and straight blond hair.

Her mother, Ruthanne Dolezal of Troy, Montana, said Rachel began to “disguise herself” as black after her parents adopted four black children years ago.

Rachel Dolezal initially dismissed the controversy, saying it arose from a legal dispute that has divided the family. But she came under increasing pressure from NAACP members to resign.

The NAACP has said that leadership jobs don’t require the person to be black.

Kitara Johnson, an NAACP member in Spokane, welcomed Dolezal’s resignation as “the best thing that can happen right now.”

Dolezal has been credited with reinvigorating Spokane’s moribund NAACP branch. In her resignation letter, she boasted that the branch acquired an office, increased membership, improved finances and made other improvements under her leadership.

Members of Spokane’s civil rights community held a short rally Monday night, in which they criticized Dolezal while vowing that the NAACP’s work would go forward. The rally included black, white, Native American and Hispanic residents of the city of 210,000 people.

“That (resignation) letter never addressed the people that she hurt,” Johnson said before the rally. “She turned her back on all of us.”

“I feel duped,” said Charity Bagatsing of Spokane, a rally organizer. “Our goal was to hold Rachel accountable for her lies and deceit.”

“Her lies have done damage to the people who trusted her,” said Blaine Stum, chair of the Spokane Human Rights Commission.

The controversy drew conflicting views from other NAACP leaders.

“I care that she was trying to make the world a better place every day,” said Frank Hawkins Jr., the NAACP president in Las Vegas. “The color of a person’s skin does not matter.”

Don Harris, a white man who heads the NAACP in the Phoenix area, criticized her, saying, “What do you gain in saying, ‘I’m an African-American’ when you’re not?”

Dolezal has not returned numerous calls to her home and offices from The Associated Press.

In 2002, Dolezal sued Howard University, where she attended graduate school, for discrimination based on “race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender, as well as retaliation,” according to a 2005 District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruling in the case.

Dolezal, who then went by her married name, Rachel Moore, claimed the university blocked her appointment as a teaching assistant, failed to hire her as an art teacher upon graduation and removed some of her pieces from a student art exhibition in favor of works by African-American students. The appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling throwing out the lawsuit.

Dolezal was fired Monday as a weekly columnist for The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Spokane’s alternative weekly. Her contract as an instructor at Eastern Washington University was not renewed.

City officials are investigating whether she lied about her ethnicity when she landed an appointment to Spokane’s police oversight board. On her application, she said her ethnic origins included white, black and American Indian.

On Friday, police said they were suspending investigations into racial harassment complaints Dolezal filed before the uproar.

___

Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat in Washington, D.C., Gene Johnson in Seattle, Ryan Van Velzer in Phoenix and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Elizabeth Wilder, right, hands a sign to Alexis Nicholson before a demonstration calling for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down becaus...

Elizabeth Wilder, right, hands a sign to Alexis Nicholson before a demonstration calling for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down because of allegations of integrity and credibility issues, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. Dolezal’s parents, Lawrence and Ruthanne Dolezal, have said that she has falsely portrayed herself as black for years. The demonstration was organized by Kitara Johnson, who also started a moveon.org petition. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Erica Cleveland, left, and her 10-year-old daughter Kimora speak during a demonstration calling for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down...

Erica Cleveland, left, and her 10-year-old daughter Kimora speak during a demonstration calling for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down because of allegations of integrity and credibility issues, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. Rachel Dolezal resigned as president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter Monday just days after her parents said she is a white woman posing as black. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Kitara Johnson speaks during a demonstration for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash.  Rachel ...

Kitara Johnson speaks during a demonstration for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. Rachel Dolezal resigned as president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter Monday just days after her parents said she is a white woman posing as black. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Kitara Johnson, center, speaks during a demonstration for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. ...

Kitara Johnson, center, speaks during a demonstration for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. Rachel Dolezal resigned as president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter Monday just days after her parents said she is a white woman posing as black. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Dennis Mitchell gestures while speaking during a demonstration for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokan...

Dennis Mitchell gestures while speaking during a demonstration for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. Dolezal resigned as president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter Monday just days after her parents said she is a white woman posing as black. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Kitara Johnson, right, and Heidi Peterson hug after a demonstration for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down Monday, June 15, 2015, in S...

Kitara Johnson, right, and Heidi Peterson hug after a demonstration for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. Dolezal resigned as president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter Monday just days after her parents said she is a white woman posing as black. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Gabe Fensler, 14, center, son of demonstration organizer Kitara Johnson and Meggie Mendoza, right, listen to a speaker during a demonstration for local NAACP...

Gabe Fensler, 14, center, son of demonstration organizer Kitara Johnson and Meggie Mendoza, right, listen to a speaker during a demonstration for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. Dolezal resigned as president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter Monday just days after her parents said she is a white woman posing as black. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Dennis Mitchell, left, speaks during a demonstration for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. D...

Dennis Mitchell, left, speaks during a demonstration for local NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal to step down Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. Dolezal resigned as president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter Monday just days after her parents said she is a white woman posing as black. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Former Spokane NAACP chapter president James Wilburn Jr. center, speaks with members of the media outside the organization's office after the resignation of ...

Former Spokane NAACP chapter president James Wilburn Jr. center, speaks with members of the media outside the organization’s office after the resignation of current president, Rachel Dolezal, over furor over her racial identity, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. The parents of Rachel Dolezal have said she has falsely portrayed herself as black for years though she is actually white. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Former Spokane NAACP chapter president James Wilburn Jr. speaks with members of the media outside the organization's office after the resignation of current ...

Former Spokane NAACP chapter president James Wilburn Jr. speaks with members of the media outside the organization’s office after the resignation of current president, Rachel Dolezal, over furor over her racial identity, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Spokane, Wash. The parents of Rachel Dolezal have said she has falsely portrayed herself as black for years though she is actually white. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

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