SPOKANE, Wash. (CBS Seattle/AP) — The leader of the NAACP in Spokane is stepping down amid controversy after her parents said the 37-year-old activist falsely portrayed herself as black for years.
Rachel Dolezal announced Monday she was resigning after canceling a chapter meeting where she was expected to speak about the furor sparked over her racial identity.
Dolezal’s statement reads, “While challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness, we can NOT afford to lose sight of the five Game Changers (Criminal Justice & Public Safety, Health & Healthcare, Education, Economic Sustainability, and Voting Rights & Political Representation) that affect millions, often with a life or death outcome. The movement is larger than a moment in time or a single person’s story, and I hope that everyone offers their robust support of the Journey for Justice campaign that the NAACP launches today!
“It is with complete allegiance to the cause of racial and social justice and the NAACP that I step aside from the Presidency and pass the baton to my Vice President, Naima Quarles-Burnley. It is my hope that by securing a beautiful office for the organization in the heart of downtown, bringing the local branch into financial compliance, catalyzing committees to do strategic work in the five Game Changer issues, launching community forums, putting the membership on a fast climb, and helping many individuals find the legal, financial and practical support needed to fight race-based discrimination, I have positioned the Spokane NAACP to buttress this transition.”
The statement continued: “Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me. It’s about justice. This is not me quitting; this is a continuum. It’s about moving the cause of human rights and the Black Liberation Movement along the continuum from Resistance to Chattel Slavery to Abolition to Defiance of Jim Crow to the building of Black Wall Street to the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and into a future of self-determination and empowerment.”
Dolezal was elected president of the local NAACP chapter about six months ago.
Meanwhile, Spokane is investigating whether she lied about her ethnicity when she landed an appointment to the city’s police oversight board. On her application, she said her ethnic origins included white, black and American Indian.
Dolezal, a 37-year-old woman with a light brown complexion and dark curly hair, attended historically black Howard University, teaches African studies at a local university and was married to a black man. For years, she has publicly complained of being the victim of racial harassment in the heavily white region.
The uproar over racial authenticity and professional honesty unfolded last week after Dolezal’s parents told the media their daughter is white with a trace of Native American heritage. They produced photos of her as girl with a pale complexion and straight blond hair.
Her mother, Ruthanne Dolezal of Troy, Montana, told reporters she has had no contact with her daughter in years. She said Rachel began to “disguise herself” after her parents adopted four African-American children more than a decade ago.
Ezra Dolezal, Rachel’s African-American adopted brother, told KREM-TV that she didn’t want him to blow her cover.
“She took me aside and just told me not to blow her cover,” he said. “She’s like trying to say people were racist to her her entire life, even though she grew up a white, privileged person up in Montana.”
Rachel Dolezal initially dismissed the controversy, saying it arose from litigation between other relatives who have divided the family. She has not returned repeated calls from The Associated Press.
Late last week, the national NAACP stood by her, saying “one’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership.” But she had come under increasing pressure from local chapter members to resign.
Kitara Johnson, an NAACP member in Spokane who has been calling on Dolezal to step down, welcomed the resignation.
“That’s the best thing that can happen right now,” Johnson said. “We are going to stand in unity and solidarity.”
Johnson said that the most important thing is to focus on the work of the NAACP, but that she hopes Dolezal remains a member of the organization.
On Friday, police said they were suspending investigations into racial harassment complaints filed before the uproar by Dolezal, including one from earlier this year in which she said she received hate mail at her office.
Police released files showing that that one hate mail package did not bear a date stamp or barcode, meaning it was probably not handled through the post office.
Dolezal’s parents appeared on the “Today” show Monday and said they hoped to reconcile with their daughter.
“We hope that Rachel will get the help that she needs to deal with her identity issues. Of course, we love her,” Ruthanne Dolezal said.
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