Rachel Dolezal, the white Washington civil rights activist at the center of an ethics probe for pretending to be black, announced on Monday that she's stepping down as president of the NAACP's Spokane chapter. One local pastor, who once served on an all-black panel with Dolezal, also described the controversy as "puzzling."
In a heartfelt and lengthy post on the organization's Facebook page, Dolezal, 37, announced her resignation before naming Vice President Naima Quarles-Burnley as her successor.
"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," she wrote, while insisting "this is not me quitting; this is a continuum."
The Howard University graduate and part-time Africana studies professor at Eastern Washington University, made headlines last week when her estranged parents outed her as being white after she had spent nearly a decade disguising herself as black.
"It wasn't even a question — that question was never raised whether she was white or black," New Hope Baptist Church's senior pastor Happy Watkins (pictured above) told The Christian Post on Friday. "I've been on panels with her and she had said that she was African-American, she was native American and something else."
Watkins confirmed that while Dolezal is not a member of his church in Spokane, she has visited in the past based on her work with the NAACP. He last served alongside her and members of the black community on what he thought was an all-black panel to discuss drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and he described the revelation that she's actually white as "puzzling."
"It was just a panel trying to motivate people in this alcohol-drug rehab. And all the people in the rehab were mostly white and they were just trying to get an understanding of what it is about how blacks handle racism and how they handle drug and alcohol rehab — that's what it was," he explained. "We didn't think about [her race] until it was her mother and father who said that she's not black. ... It was puzzling."
The city of Spokane confirmed with CP on Friday that Dolezal, who is of Czech, Swedish and German ancestry with "faint traces" of Native American blood, allegedly misrepresented herself by identifying herself as African-American in an application for the position of chairwoman of the city's Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, a volunteer job she secured.
Dolezal expressed her disappointment in the media's reaction to what she described as an "unexpected firestorm" because she believes there are more pressing issues affecting Americans, such as police brutality, that are more deserving of media attention.
"Many issues face us now that drive at the theme of urgency," she wrote. "Police brutality, biased curriculum in schools, economic disenfranchisement, health inequities, and a lack of pro-justice political representation are among the concerns at the forefront of the current administration of the Spokane NAACP. And yet, the dialogue has unexpectedly shifted internationally to my personal identity in the context of defining race and ethnicity."
Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal, who are her biological parents, expressed their sadness in several media interviews last week about the public controversy. But Dolezal, who sports a stylish afro and deep tan, continues to identify as black and vowed to continue in her fight for social justice for the black community.
"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," she wrote.
"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."
In an interview with KREM2 on Thursday, just as the scandal broke, Dolezal spoke about her relationship with Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal, both of whom she has not had contact with for years.
"I do not talk to Ruthanne or Larry anymore, neither does [my adopted brother] Izaiah, neither do other sibling," she told KREM2, adding, "Yes, I do consider myself to be black."
It is unclear what triggered the breakdown of their relationship, although unconfirmed reports suggest that a pending legal matter involving the entire family may have caused tension.
Ruthanne, who raised her daughter as a child in Northwest Montana, told The Spokane Spokesman-Review that "It's very sad that Rachel has not just been herself. Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable, and she would have been more effective if she had just been honest with everybody."
According to Ruthanne, Dolezal began disguising her true identity back in 2006 or 2007, though it remains unclear why she felt compelled to do it. Her parents, who adopted four black children in the 1990s, said that their racially diverse family likely sparked her interest in black culture.
"Yes, I believe that's part of it," Ruthanne told CNN. "Although Rachel has always been interested in ethnicity and diversity and we had many friends of different ethnicities when she was growing up. So it didn't start with the four adopted children of color but it probably added to her passion."
Brian Coddington, the city's communication's director, previously told CP that an ethics probe is ongoing and when asked what action will be taken if Dolezal is found to be in violation of the city's code of ethics, he said: "At this point nothing's off the table, and we're in the process of gathering facts to determine exactly what the situation is and whether there have been any violations of city policy or ethics code."