Rachel Dolezal, the Spokane NAACP chapter president who has come under fire for allegedly lying about her race, announced on Monday that she is stepping down from her high-profile post.
In a message posted on the Spokane NAACP Facebook page, Dolezal — elected to the position about six months ago — wrote, “In the eye of this current storm, I can see that a separation of family and organization outcomes is in the best interest of the NAACP.” She did not address the allegations that she lied about her ethnicity.
Dolezal will sit for a series of exclusive interviews Tuesday with NBC News’ Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie and MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry.
Dolezal added in her statement Monday that the NAACP is faced with pressing issues, including police brutality, economic disenfranchisement and health inequities. Yet, “the dialogue has unexpectedly shifted internationally to my personal identity in the context of defining race and ethnicity.”
“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,” she said.
Dolezal was facing calls to step down after her parents told a newspaper, Coeur d’Alene Press, last week that their daughter was born white but, since 2004, has been deceiving people by presenting herself as African-American. The claim has kicked off a national debate over race and identity.
Before Dolezal announced her resignation, NAACP President Cornell Brooks was asked at an event in Washington, D.C. if the national organization stood behind the embattled chapter president. Brooks tip-toed around the question, only saying “We are focused very much today on America’s journey for justice. Just given the amount of media attention to that question, we will certainly have more opportunities to address it, but today, America’s journey for justice.” The NAACP was holding an already planned press conference about a multi-city march to fight for polices, including voting rights.
In a written statement released Monday evening, Brooks said the NAACP is “not concerned with the racial identity of our leadership but the institutional integrity of our advocacy. Our focus must be on issues not individuals. … Dolezal has decided to resign to ensure that the Spokane branch remains focused on fighting for civil and human rights. This resignation today comes amidst the real work of the NAACP and the real challenges to our democracy.”
On Friday, the NAACP had issued a statement backing Dolezal, saying ”one’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership. The NAACP Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Conference stands behind Ms. Dolezal’s advocacy record.”
Adding another twist to the story, Dolezal, under a different name, sued Howard University in 2005 for discrimination over her being white, according to court documents. A federal judge dismissed the suit. The Smoking Gun first reported on the suit.
The parents of Rachel Dolezal, Ruthanne and Lawrence Dolezal, reacted to their daughter’s resignation on msnbc’s “Live with Thomas Roberts.” Ruthanne Dolezal said she noticed in the resignation letter that there was “no actual addressing of the issue of being dishonest about her ethnicity nor was there any apology, so I see that as a first step in her path to moving away from the negative feelings that she’s had toward her family members. I pray that she will take the steps necessary to embrace her true, personal identity and not feel compelled any longer to be false…”
Ruthanne Dolezal also said she was worried about her daughter’s mental health and the exposure the controversy has brought her. “I am concerned for Rachel, particularly because of her dishonesty and then the unwillingness so far to address that and choose a new course,” she said.
Earlier in the day, the parents said on Monday’s “TODAY” show that they believe their daughter may have pretended to be black in effort to boost her credibility as an activist.
“She may have felt that she had some advantage in her activism by being portrayed as a black woman,” said Ruthanne Dolezal of her daughter, who is also a professor in the Africana Education Department at Eastern Washington University.
She also serves as the chair of the Spokane independent citizen police ombudsman commission. Spokane Mayor David Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart said in a statement Monday that they have contacted the city’s ethics commission “for a determination as to whether the answers she gave on her application for the volunteer position violated the city’s code of ethics.”
“Much has been made about ethnicity, but our concerns are focused squarely on the expectation that our volunteers adhere to the standards of truthfulness, transparency and integrity they agree to when they apply for and join a board or commission,” the city leaders said in a statement. “The discussion has been a distraction from the work of those who strive every day to make Spokane a great place to live.”
Lawrence Dolezal said he and his wife chose to speak out because they were contacted by the press and the question over their daughter’s race had never been asked of them before. “We have always taught and trained our children to tell the truth, be straightforward. We told the truth,” he said.
Rachel Dolezal was initially scheduled to address the accusations at a NAACP chapter meeting on Monday, but the gathering was cancelled over the weekend. The chapter organization said in a statement on Sunday that “due to the need to continue discussion the regional and national NAACP leaders, tomorrow’s meeting is postponed and will be rescheduled for a later date.”