Once a rising star in the Pacific Northwest’s civil rights movement, Rachel Dolezal’s career was in free fall Monday.
She resigned under fire as president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. Eastern Washington University removed her online biography from the faculty directory.
And Spokane city officials asked Spokane’s ethics commission to investigate whether she lied while applying for a volunteer position with the police ombudsman’s office.
Hours after she boarded a flight to New York City with intentions to break her silence this morning on the “Today” show, more than two dozen demonstrators gathered outside the NAACP offices along West Main Street to hold signs reading “#IntegrityMatters.”
Angela Jones said after the rally she joined the Spokane chapter of the NAACP on Monday, following the announcement of Dolezal’s resignation. Jones said she’d “consciously” avoided becoming an official member of the group because of her disagreements with Dolezal’s strategies.
“We could have said, ‘Oh, let’s cancel it,’ once she announced her resignation,” Jones said of the rally. Instead, members of the NAACP, Spokane Human Rights Commission and area Indian tribes showed up to illustrate that the efforts of those groups would continue without Dolezal.
“It’s not about her,” said Charity Bagatsing, one of the organizers of the rally. “It’s about this community.”
But not everyone standing on Main Street agreed that Dolezal should be left behind. Anthony Stevenson stood to the side of demonstrators, looking up at the fourth-floor office where Dolezal led the Spokane NAACP for about seven months.
“If it wasn’t for her, I’d be homeless,” Stevenson said, calling the rally and media attention a “witch hunt.” Stevenson said he met Dolezal a few years ago when he was facing eviction from public housing and she became involved in his case.
“I just look at the inside of that woman,” Stevenson said. “I just look at what’s in her heart.”
Kitara Johnson, a member of the Spokane Human Rights Commission, had called for Dolezal’s resignation using an online petition. She said the rally was a chance for the community to make a public statement in the absence of one from the former NAACP president.
“We waited in silence. We waited on a leader to step forward,” Johnson told the crowd. “And nobody said a word.”
Stories appeared about a lawsuit she filed against her alma mater, Howard University, in 2002 claiming harassment – that she was discriminated against because she is white. And some blogs suggested that one of her artworks appears to copy that of famed painter J.M.W. Turner.
‘Completely lost the trust’
Just days after Dolezal’s family revealed that Dolezal is white, despite her portrayals of herself as a black woman, she resigned from her position as Spokane NAACP president Monday morning.
In a letter sent to the NAACP executive committee she wrote, “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.”
Although the NAACP hadn’t taken an official position on Dolezal’s future with the organization, some leaders and former leaders had called for her resignation.
“It is difficult for me to believe anything Rachel Dolezal says. She has completely lost the trust I had in her,” wrote Charles Thornton, former vice president of the Spokane chapter, in an email. “The lies she told to me go deeper than I could imagine. Rachel Dolezal needs to resign.”
Meanwhile, Spokane Mayor David Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart say Dolezal may have violated ethics rules if she lied on her application to serve on the city’s police oversight commission.
They have asked the city Ethics Committee to open an investigation.
“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,” Condon and Stuckart said in a joint statement.
Also Monday, Eastern Washington University removed Dolezal’s biography from its website.
University spokesman Dave Meany said Dolezal was in a part-time teaching position that ended Friday when the academic quarter finished and no longer is employed at EWU.
He said whether she gets hired to another quarterly teaching contract in the fall would be up to the Africana education program, where Dolezal has worked on a quarter-by-quarter basis since 2010.
And in other developments Monday, the Pacific Northwest Inlander announced it had severed ties with Dolezal, who had been a freelance opinion columnist for the weekly tabloid.
Still plenty of room for growth
In her resignation letter to the local NAACP’s executive committee, Dolezal highlighted her commitment to racial justice and equality, while simultaneously resigning.
“I’m 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,” she wrote.
Dolezal, who had been the Spokane NAACP president for seven months, took credit for getting an office for the NAACP, bringing the branch into financial compliance, invigorating committees, launching community forums and increasing membership.
Thornton, the former vice president of the chapter, credits Dolezal with bringing new and competent voices onto NAACP committees. But while he believes the Spokane chapter has improved, there’s still plenty of room for growth.
Freda Gandy, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center in Spokane, questions what Dolezal has done as NAACP president.
“What has she done? What? You’ve gone around town and posed for a lot of pictures with different people,” Gandy said, referring to Dolezal. “What really have you done? What is it? Because I don’t know.”
Thornton, who resigned a month ago from the executive committee, said many people in the organization like Dolezal, including himself.
“Rachel and many of the executive members had a relationship, in terms of friendship,” Thornton said. “So it probably was a difficult discussion. It’s hard to deal with something like this when you’re dealing with a friend.”
Still, Thornton is glad she resigned.
“I’m happy to see that she resigned so that it could end the controversy,” he said.