NAACP leader sued black college alleging discrimination

In this March 2, 2015 file photo, Rachel Dolezal, then-president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, poses for a photo in her Spokane, Wash. home. (AP File Photo)

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The former head of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter who stepped down amid a furor over claims she was a white woman posing as black filed a racial discrimination suit against a historically black college in 2002.

Rachel 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.

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 – a dizzyingly swift fall for an activist credited with injecting remarkable new energy into the civil rights organization.

The furor touched off fierce debate around the country over racial identity and divided the NAACP itself.

“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 chapter’s president last fall, wrote on the group’s Facebook page. “Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights.”

City officials, meanwhile, 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.

In this Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, file photo, Rachel Dolezal, center, Spokane's newly-elected NAACP president, smiles as she meets with Joseph M. King, of King's Consulting, left, and Scott Finnie, director and senior professor of Eastern Washington University's Africana Education Program, before the start of a Black Lives Matter Teach-In on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, at EWU, in Cheney, Wash. Dolezal's family members say she has falsely portrayed herself as black for years. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review via AP, File)
In this Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, file photo, Rachel Dolezal, center, Spokane’s newly-elected NAACP president, smiles as she meets with Joseph M. King, of King’s Consulting, left, and Scott Finnie, director and senior professor of Eastern Washington University’s Africana Education Program, before the start of a Black Lives Matter Teach-In on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, at EWU, in Cheney, Wash. Dolezal’s family members say she has falsely portrayed herself as black for years. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review via AP, File)

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

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

Her mother, Ruthanne Dolezal of Troy, Montana, told reporters she has had no contact with her daughter in several years. She said Rachel began to “disguise herself” as black after her parents adopted four black children more than a decade ago.

Rachel Dolezal initially dismissed the controversy, saying it arose from a legal dispute that has divided the family, and repeatedly sidestepped questions about her race. “That question is not as easy as it seems,” she said. “There’s a lot of complexities.”

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 Dolezal came 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 as “the best thing that can happen right now.”

Johnson said that the most important thing is to focus on the work of the NAACP, and that she hopes Dolezal remains a member of the organization.

“She knows her stuff,” Johnson said.

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

“The NAACP is not concerned with the racial identity of our leadership,” Cornell William Brooks, national president of the NAACP, said in a statement Monday. Dolezal “has decided to resign to ensure that the Spokane branch remains focused on fighting for civil and human rights.”

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.

On Friday, police said they were suspending investigations into racial harassment complaints filed by Dolezal before the uproar, including one from earlier this year in which she said she received hate mail at her NAACP office.

Police released files showing that one 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 hope 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,” her mother said.

Her parents have said they revealed the truth to a newspaper reporter because they did not want to lie during an interview.

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