The confusing web of contradictions that led to accusations of racism and questions of racial identity appear to have resulted in the resignation of an NAACP leader in Spokane, Washington, who has now spoken out about the controversy.
Rachel Dolezal’s history came under scrutiny when her white parents told a reporter last week she is Caucasian and they do not understand why she is identifying as black.
Here is a rough timeline of her transition from a pale young girl with blond hair to a darker-skinned leader in the country’s oldest civil rights organization.
Rachel Dolezal was born and raised in Montana by parents Ruthanne and Lawrence Dolezal. Her parents told ABC News they also adopted African-American children with whom Rachel was raised.
Though it was not visibly apparent at the time, Dolezal has identified as black since she was about 5-years-old, she now says.
“I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon,” she said on the “Today” this morning.
When asked specifically about how she would classify herself when she was a teen, while looking at a photo of herself, Dolezal told NBC, “visibly, she would be identified as white by people who see her.”
When it came time for college, Lawrence Dolezal said his daughter purposefully chose to attend universities that placed significant emphasis on race.
“She went to Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi, to be part of a racial reconciliation community development project which was an open expression to the community of Jackson, Mississippi, that blacks and whites could live in harmony together and be fully reconciled,” Lawrence said to ABC News of the private Christian university. “She did that for four years at Jackson before she went to Howard.”
Dolezal, then known as Rachel Moore, was awarded a scholarship to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., one of the country’s best-known historically black universities.
She later filed a suit against the school, saying she was denied a teaching assistant position 14 years ago based on race, among other factors, according to the judgment from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which upheld a dismissal of her suit by a lower court. The court noted that the chairman did not learn of her interest in an assistantship until after he says he had filled all of the positions.
At Howard University in Washington, D.C., according to the 2005 order, Moore claimed “discrimination based on race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender” while she was a graduate student in art.
She also claimed her artwork was removed from a student exhibition in 2001 to “favor African-American students over Moore,” the June 14, 2005, the order says. The order said that the statute of limitations had expired on this claim.
Dolezal defended her decision to file a lawsuit against the school.
“The reasons for my full-tuition scholarship being removed and my teaching position as well, my TA position, were that other people needed opportunities and, ‘You probably have white relatives that can afford to help you with your tuition’ and I thought that was an injustice,” she said on “Today.”
The Appeals Court judgment noted that while “she did not follow the normal application process for obtaining a scholarship in her second year, she in fact was awarded a scholarship in September 2001 for the entire 2001-2002 year.” And in regards to a teaching position following graduation, she “did not apply for an advertised faculty position; rather, she dropped off her resume and a cover letter… (that) acknowledged her understanding that no teaching positions were then available”.
Howard University issued a statement saying it “considers this matter closed and has no further comment.”
Dolezal started working as a part-time professor in the Africana studies program at Eastern Washington University in 2010 but a spokesman told ABC News that she is no longer employed by the university.
Spokesman Dave Meany said she was hired on a quarter-by-quarter basis and the school’s most recent quarter ended Friday, so her contract expired, “as previously scheduled,” he said.
He declined to comment on whether she would be rehired in the fall. Dolezal has not responded to ABC News’ requests for comment.
Her New Life – and Look
Her adopted siblings spoke to ABC News about how they saw her shift, as they say she made it clear that she did not want people knowing about her past.
“She took me aside… and told me to make sure that no one found out where she was actually from and for me not to blow her cover,” Ezra Dolezal told ABC News.
Her adoptive brother Zachariah Dolezal said that her shift in appearance came in stages over time.
“It started with her hair, then she’d probably have a little darker tan,” he said. “It was very progressive.”
When it came time for her to explain her changing look on “Today,” she offered few specifics, saying only that she “certainly [doesn’t] stay out of the sun.”
Leading in Washington State
Dolezal has been a civil rights activist in her adopted home of Spokane, Washington, and, subsequently, was elected as the chapter president of the NAACP late last year.
The group even shared a photo of Dolezal and an older black man who they identified as her father, saying he would be attending her swearing-in ceremony.
She addressed her decision to introduce that man, who has been identified as Albert Wilkerson, as her father, even though he is not her biological father.
“He actually approached me in North Idaho and we just kind of connected on a very intimate level as family,” she said during the “Today” interview.
“Albert Wilkerson is my dad. Any man can be a father, not every man can be a dad,” she said.
Over the past few years, Dolezal reportedly filed several reports of hate crimes with police saying that her family has been harassed eight times, according to ABC affiliate station KXLY-TV in Spokane.
One of the incidents included her alleged discovery of a noose in her garden, and Dolezal also said she most recently received a packet of hateful letters at the NAACP’s post office box.
She addressed questions about whether those threats were real during a KXLY interview.
KXLY: People hear that you have a key [to the post office box] and know that you’ve been victimized before. What would you say to the folks that say maybe you put that letter in there because you were one of the people that had the keys to do so?
Dolezal: “I don’t know that I even have any words for that. Because as a mother of two black sons I would never terrorize my children, and I don’t know any mother, personally, that that would trump up or fabricate something that severe, that would affect her kids. My son had slept for two weeks in my bed after we received a package. And he’s thirteen years old — that’s the kind of terror, that I as a mother, and my son, as a black male thirteen-year-old in Spokane, never needs to experience.”
In addition to stepping down as the Spokane chapter president on Monday, she no longer has her job at Eastern Washington University.
She is also the subject of an investigation by the city ethics commission trying to determine whether she lied about her race on her application to join the police oversight board. KXLY reported that she identified herself as white, black and American Indian on the application.