A US civil rights activist campaigning for the rights of African Americans has resigned, just days after her parents said she is a white woman posing as black.

Rachel Dolezal, who served as president of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the country's oldest and largest civil rights organisation, said the controversy over her race had shifted dialogue away from key social and political issues.

"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," Dolezal said in a statement on the NAACP Spokane chapter's Facebook page on Monday.

Dolezal, 37, came under intense scrutiny last week after a white couple who identified themselves as her biological parents came forward to say she had misrepresented herself as black.

They told media that their daughter is white with a trace of Native American heritage. They produced photos of her as a girl with fair skin and straight blond hair.

Discrimination claims

The image that has emerged of Dolezal is of a woman who was raised in a home with adopted black siblings, enrolled at historically black Howard University and later sued the Washington, DC school on grounds it discriminated against her because she was white.

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."


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Dolezal, who also holds a post in Spokane's city government, identified herself as white, African-American and Native American on her application, City Council President Ben Stuckart said.

He said the city had opened an investigation of the veracity of her application. Stuckart said Dolezal had filed police complaints of racial discrimination, most recently that she received hate mail.

In announcing her resignation from the NAACP, Dolezal said she had remained quiet through the controversy out of respect for the work of the civil rights group. 

Recently, a photo posted on the Spokane NAACP's Facebook page showed Dolezal with a black man described as her father. When a reporter for a Spokane broadcaster asked her last week if she was black, she said she did not understand the question and walked away.

Until Friday, she held an adjunct teaching role in the Africana Studies Programme at Eastern Washington University.

Source: Agencies