What We Know So Far
- Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane, Washington, NAACP, is a white woman who has been living as a black person for years, her parents said.
- Dolezal was also the chair of the city police oversight commission and is now under investigation for allegedly misrepresenting herself on public documents.
- Dolezal has in the past told police that hate mail was sent to an NAACP P.O. box that she has access to — but officials said some of those letters weren't actually mailed.
- The investigations into those letters by local and federal authorities were dropped, police said.
- The national NAACP said it stands by Dolezal, but on Monday she stepped down as the Spokane chapter president.
- On Tuesday, she broke her silence in an interview with NBC News, saying, "I identify as black."
- In 2013, her brother was charged with sexually assaulting a minor. It has been suggested that this caused a rift between Dolezal and the rest of her family.
In a lawsuit against Howard University, Rachel Dolezal described herself as "Caucasian biologically" and told lawyers "I don't know that I could lead anyone to believe that I'm African-American."
Dolezal's 2002 lawsuit alleged that she had been discriminated against while a graduate student at the historically black college. However, in the course of the lawsuit, Howard lawyers asked Dolezal if she had ever misrepresented herself as a black woman, the Associated Press reported.
She responded by telling the lawyers she didn't know if she could convince anyone that she was black.
"I believe that, you know, in certain context, maybe someone would assume that, but I don't know that I could convince someone that I'm a hundred percent African-American," Dolezal said.
The lawyers also asked Dolezal how she would describe her race, to which she replied, "I consider myself to be Caucasian biologically."
Dolezal's comments came after Howard attorneys asked her about her admissions essay, in which she described herself as "transracial," according to the AP. She also wrote that "at the early age of three I showed an awareness of the richness and beauty of dark skin when I said, `Mama, all people are beautiful but black people are so beautiful.'"
When asked about the essay during her deposition, she said she was "talking about black history in novels."
The lawsuit arose after Dolezal claimed she was improperly passed over for a teaching position and a scholarship at Howard, and after she had art works removed from a student show. A court of appeals decision dismissed the lawsuit, saying she failed to back up her claims with evidence. The court also ordered her to pay $2,728.50 toward Howard's legal expenses.
Howard University professor and chair of Afro-American studies Gregory Carr told BuzzFeed News that Rachel Dolezal’s identification as a black woman forced the nation into uncomfortable territory in the discussion of race politics.
Carr, whose Twitter feed often functions as a virtual classroom in African and African American history, entered Howard University as an associate professor in 2001, the year before Dolezal graduated from the school with her MFA. He told BuzzFeed News that he could not recall any specific interactions with her, but had seen her on campus before.
When Dolezal's parents said that Rachel had been posing as a black, Carr was not initially surprised. He said that black culture, considered by some to be the cornerstone of American culture, is regularly appropriated in places like music, dance, and sports.
"But what I think makes Rachel's story somewhat unusual," he said, "is the wholesale commitment to black identity not only as a cultural practice, but as a social identity."
Carr argued that because Americans often pride themselves on creating their own identities, the fact that Dolezal deliberately chose to embrace blackness "in a country where blackness is frequently punished and policed" carries with it questions that have never been asked in the public discourse.
"Is it possible to acquire that burden in a way that cannot be eschewed or dropped?" he asked.
Speaking to the inability of visibly black Americans who may wish to embody a white identity, Carr wondered, "What are the implications for those who do not have that option?"
Carr tweeted that the story of Dolezal's complicated identity bears the needs for an honest exchange about race that is difficult to have in a society where white people are punished for not being politically correct, and non-white people face danger for speaking out.
What would an example of an honest conversation look like?
"Imagine if black women did not know they were being overheard in their conversations about Rachel Dolezal," he said.
Howard University chair of African American studies Dr. Gregory Carr took to Twitter on Tuesday in light of the unfolding story about Rachel Dolezal.
He acknowledged the important discussions about race that have surfaced because of the news, and said that "courage" was required to continue the conversation.
The professor then posed a few questions of his own.
Whoopi Goldberg and Raven-Symone supported Dolezal on ABC's The View on Tuesday.
"If she wants to be black, she can be black," Goldberg said.
"Everybody has some type of African blood inside them," Raven-Symone, said. "And what makes a black person, just your skin?"
In 2013, Rachel Dolezal's biological brother, Joshua Dolezal, was arrested in Colorado on charges of sexual assault against a child, according to court records.
Joshua, 39, was arrested on March 11, 2014 for the July 2013 offense involving the sexual assault of a minor and was released days later on $15,000 bail.
According to the New York Daily News, who first broke the news of Dolezal's brother, Dolezal has been "assisting" the victim in this case and she has suggested that her parents' decision to speak out against her racial identity was a possible attempt to damage her credibility.
According to the Daily News, Joshua now lives in Indiana. He didn't immediately return a message from BuzzFeed News.
The Clear Creek County case is set to go to trial in August and there was a status conference on Monday, according to the court records.
Rachel Dolezal sat down with Matt Lauer on the Today Show Tuesday morning in her first interview addressing her race. "I did feel that at some point I'd have to address the complexity of my identity," Dolezal told Lauer. "I identify as black."
Rachel Dolezal's parents have told BBC News' Victoria Derbyshire that they "chose to tell the truth" when first asked by reporters about their daughter's identity, rather than maintain the lie.
Her mother Ruthanne said that don't have "any way to explain why Rachel has deceptively tried to pass her self as an African-American."
Ruthanne said Rachel "has made it very clear that she does not want have anything to do with us." Larry said that they were told to keep away from public activity or major life events involving their grandson and adopted son.
NBC announced that Dolezal would appear Tuesday morning live on Today.
In addition to the live interview Tuesday morning with Matt Lauer, NBC said Dolezal would sit down for interviews with NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, and NBCBLK, a section of NBCNews.com focusing on black culture and news.
Rachel Dolezal's parents on Monday released a statement saying they hoped their daughter would acknowledge and apologize for her dishonesty.
Our daughter Rachel's letter of resignation from the NAACP today, states her ongoing commitment to the causes of racial and social justice, however, she neglects to face the deceptions that she documented about her ethnicity, or to offer an apology for her dishonest representation of her heritage.
It is our hope and prayer that Rachel will take the steps necessary to acknowledge her dishonesty and to offer an apology to the NAACP and other organizations with which she held positions of prominence. By taking that initial step of facing the ethics issues involved in her false representations, we trust that Rachel will begin to move toward a healthy ability to embrace and celebrate her true personal identity and therefore no longer feel compelled to be false or hostile toward her biological family.
An editor's note in the Inlander, where Dolezal wrote a weekly column, described the feelings of disappointment and empathy the staff of the alternative weekly had for Dolezal.
Editor Jacob Fries said following revelations of Dolezal's alleged deception, she would no longer contribute freelance opinion pieces for the Inlander.
"As one of the many organizations that put their faith in Dolezal, we, too, feel manipulated and deceived," Fries wrote. "We also feel empathy for Dolezal — she is a person, not an idea, and the global shaming she's enduring is sizable — but truth is truth."
Rachel Dolezal appeared to leave Spokane, Washington on Monday following her resignation from the NAACP.
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. Ms. Rachel 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. At a civic moment, when we mark our civic calendar with a criminal justice tragedy every few days including a children's birthday party with police and pool; at a moment when the civic sacrament called the vote is desecrated by voter disenfranchisement; at a moment where rising income inequality and declining social mobility leave American workers stranded outside the middle class; and at a moment when our world class economy is undermined by third class schools for forgotten students; the NAACP announced today the long schedule for America's Journey for Justice. This historic 860 mile march demands a disciplined focus not on any individual among us but the issues that affect us all. We are calling on Americans of every hue and heritage, of every racial background and of every political party and those with no party affiliation, and those of every generation to make history and make change by marching on America's Journey for Justice.
While representing herself as a white woman at Howard University, Dolezal unsuccessfully sued the historically black school and claimed discrimination.
Dolezal, who was then married and went by the name Rachel Moore, claimed that the university denied her a scholarship, an employment opportunity, and the chance to display her artwork at a student exhibition.
"Moore alleged that the decision of Dean Benjamin of Howard to remove some of her artworks from a February 2001 student exhibition was motivated by a discriminatory purpose to favor African-American students over Moore," said a court of appeals decision first obtained by the Smoking Gun.
But, the court opinion continued, she failed to show evidence to back up her claims. She had not applied for the teaching position and was not as qualified as the person who was hired, the court found. She also did not follow the normal application procedure to earn a scholarship in her second year; in any case, she ultimately received the scholarship after a delay, the opinion said.
According to court records, Dolezal was ordered to pay $2,728.50 toward Howard University's attorneys fees.
Dolezal said she is stepping down as the Spokane chapter president in this statement issued Monday:
Here's the full text:
Dear Executive Committee and NAACP Members,
It is a true honor to serve in the racial and social justice movement here in Spokane and across the nation. Many issues face us now that drive at the theme of urgency. 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.
I have waited in deference while others expressed their feelings, beliefs, confusions and even conclusions - absent the full story. I am consistently committed to empowering marginalized voices and believe that many individuals have been heard in the last hours and days that would not otherwise have had a platform to weigh in on this important discussion. Additionally, I have always deferred to the state and national NAACP leadership and offer my sincere gratitude for their unwavering support of my leadership through this unexpected firestorm.
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!
I am delighted that so many organizations and individuals have supported and collaborated with the Spokane NAACP under my leadership to grow this branch into one of the healthiest in the nation in 5 short months. 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.
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.
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.
With much love and a commitment to always fight for what is right and good in this world,
Rachel Dolezal uploaded this Facebook cover photo of herself with her son Franklin Moore and one of her adopted brothers, Izaiah Dolezal, on Sunday.
The NAACP meeting scheduled for Monday, where Rachel Dolezal said she would make a statement, has been postponed.
A former student of Rachel Dolezal at Eastern Washington University told BuzzFeed News that she wasn't allowed to participate in a class activity about race and culture because she did not appear Hispanic enough.
The student — who, like many others interviewed asked to remain anonymous — told BuzzFeed News that she took two courses with Dolezal during her freshman year.
Not only is the student Hispanic, she grew up in a Spanish-speaking country, speaks the language fluently, and, while she has light skin, believes she has a "pretty solid experience of what it's like to be Spanish."
But when she raised her hand to participate in a class exercise in which volunteers are asked about their racial and cultural experiences, the student said Dolezal wanted someone else.
"Rachel said I didn't look Hispanic," the student said, adding that Dolezal "doubted that I could share experiences of racial or ethnic discrimination because I didn't have the appearance of looking Hispanic."
Read the full account here.
Records show Rachel Dolezal filed police reports going as far back as 2007 claiming she had been targeted because of her work and her biracial heritage.
In police reports, Dolezal cited threatening letters, intimidating calls, and nooses left on her front porch.
In January, she became president of the Spokane NAACP, is chair of the city's Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, and was education director for the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene in Idaho. She is also an adjunct professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University.
Read a detailed account of her history with police here.
The City of Spokane on Friday released her application to a police oversight commission to BuzzFeed News.
According to her application for the Office of Police Ombudsman Commission, which she currently chairs, Dolezal marked her ethnic origin as being white, black, and American Indian. She also marked "Two or More Races."
Read more about how she has responded to inquiries about her race here.
Ezra Dolezal told BuzzFeed News that his adopted sister warned him to not tell anyone in Spokane that she wasn’t really black as she started a new life for herself.
"She just told me, 'Over here, I'm going to be considered black, and I have a black father. Don't blow my cover,'" Dolezal, 22, told BuzzFeed News in an interview.
Rachel Dolezal also told him to tell people that he and her other adopted brother were her "blood brothers," he said.
His sister did not offer "any logical explanation" for why she was changing her identity, and Ezra never confronted her about it. But it was the next stage after growing apart from her parents, Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal, and leaving their home in Montana.
"She wanted to make a new life for herself but she took it to the ultimate extreme," Ezra said. "Not only did she move out to Spokane, but she created a whole new identity for herself."
Read the full interview here.
Dolezal's birth certificate, provided by the family:
Court records reportedly say Dolezal is the legal guardian of her brother, Izaiah.
Spokane Mayor David Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart released this statement:
We are committed to independent citizen oversight and take very seriously the concerns raised regarding the chair of the independent citizen police ombudsman commission. We are gathering facts to determine if any city policies related to volunteer boards and commissions have been violated. That information will be reviewed by the City Council, which has oversight of city boards and commissions.
The Washington Post spoke with two of Dolezal's adopted brothers. Zach Dolezal, 21, who visited her in Spokane, said Rachel told him not to speak about their parents in public.
Ezra Dolezal, 22, compared his sister's decision to conceal her race to blackface. "Back in the early 1900s, what she did would be considered highly racist," said Ezra Dolezal, who described himself as "25 percent black." He added: "You really should not do that. It's completely opposite – she's basically creating more racism."
Zach called the situation "a farce, really."
Rachel's brothers and parents don't speak to her, they said, because she alleged their third adopted brother, Izaiah, who is black, was abused. Rachel, who got custody of Izaiah, now 21, refers to him as her son.
As the Post reported:
"Izaiah always was her favorite child," Ezra Dolezal said. "She turned Izaiah kind of racist. Told Izaiah all this stuff about white people, made him really racist toward white people."
More than Rachel's claims of African American heritage, the custody of Izaiah seems to have driven the Dolezals apart.
"I can understand hairstyles and all that," Zach Dolezal said of his sister's alleged attempts to appropriate black culture. "Saying her brother is her son, I don't understand that."
Rachel Dolezal told BuzzFeed News Friday that she will "be making an official statement soon."
The national NAACP said Friday it stands by Dolezal:
For 106 years, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has held a long and proud tradition of receiving support from people of all faiths, races, colors and creeds. NAACP Spokane Washington Branch President Rachel Dolezal is enduring a legal issue with her family, and we respect her privacy in this matter. 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. In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational, and economic justice for all people, and we encourage Americans of all stripes to become members and serve as leaders in our organization.
Hate language sent through mail and social media along with credible threats continue to be a serious issue for our units in the Pacific Northwest and across the nation. We take all threats seriously and encourage the FBI and the Department of Justice to fully investigate each occurrence.
Spokane Police Department spokesperson Teresa Fuller said police have suspended their investigations into Dolezal.
Fuller has earlier said the FBI and Postal Service, which were helping the police investigate alleged hate mail sent to Dolezal, dropped their investigations. She later said that she was unclear of the status of the federal inquiries.
Fuller confirmed an earlier report to BuzzFeed News that the investigation into the letters Rachel Dolezal received has been suspended pending any new leads.
Dolezal has not been questioned by police in any way and no one has filed a complaint against Dolezal with the police department, Fuller said.
The FBI did not immediately return a call for comment.
Spokane's Police Ombudsman Commission is investigating whether Dolezal was truthful when applying for the position:
"At this point we're gathering facts to determine if city policies related to volunteer boards and commissions were violated," city spokesperson Brian Coddington told BuzzFeed News. "Then a determination will be made on how to move forward."
Dolezal was appointed to the commission after she applied, interviewed, and ultimately was confirmed by the city council. Coddington said all commission members sign two oaths that they were truthful during the application process. It is unclear what the consequences would be if Dolezal is found to have lied, but Coddington said that having her removed from the position is not "off the table."
"We'll let the facts take us as they may," he said, adding that there is no timeline for when the city aims to conclude its investigation. "We take this very seriously and need to ensure the process is not impacted by this."
The commission was created late last fall to independently oversee the police ombudsman, Coddington said. Dolezal is serving a two-year term on the commission.
Reporting by Mary Ann Georgantopoulos, Tamerra Griffin, and Tasneem Nashrulla in New York and Claudia Koerner, Salvatore Hernandez, Adolfo Flores, Jason Wells and Jim Dalrymple III in Los Angeles.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates and follow BuzzFeed News on Twitter.