Civil Rights Activist Under Scrutiny Over Race Claims

Family members of an NAACP leader say the Washington state civil rights activist has been falsely portraying herself as black for years. (Published Friday, June 12, 2015)

A prominent civil rights activist in Washington state is under scrutiny over whether she lied about her racial identity, after her parents told a local NBC station she is white but portrays herself as black.

Rachel Dolezal, who heads the Spokane chapter of the NAACP and teaches African-American studies at a university, told the Spokesman-Review that her racial identity is a "multi-layered" issue.

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"That question is not as easy as it seems," she said. "There’s a lot of complexities … and I don't know that everyone would understand that."

Dolezal first came under scrutiny when she said on an application to be on Spokane's police overnight board that she is of African-American, white and native American descent, KHQ reported.

Her parents, from whom she is estranged, told the station that isn't true, and that the family is of Czech, Swedish and German descent with some native American ancestry. Dolezal declined to comment to KHQ.

Dolezal is president of the NAACP's local branch, an adjunct professor at Eastern Washington University and chairwoman of Spokane's police overnight board. She received her master's degree in Fine Arts from Howard University in 2002. Her father told the Post she got a full ride to the historically black institution in Washington, D.C.

The regional NAACP conference said it respected Dolezal's privacy amid her dispute with her family.

"One's racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership," it said, adding that it "stands behind Ms. Dolezal's advocacy record."

The Spokane mayor and City Council president say an inquiry is underway into whether Dolezal violated city policies when she listed herself as white, black and American Indian on her board application.