State Watch

West Virginia’s only Black female lawmaker offers harrowing accounts of racism  

CORRECTION: Danielle Walker is the only Black woman in the state’s legislature. An earlier version of this story included a headline with incomplete information.

When Danielle Walker was elected as a West Virginia delegate in 2018, she became the only Black woman in the state’s legislature.  

She’s since provided a voice that might otherwise not be heard for Black residents, who account for just 4 percent of the Mountain State’s population. 

It’s a position that has not given her immunity from the ugliest kinds of racism.  

In an emotional interview with The Hill, Walker recounted times in which she’s had to stand against prejudice, white supremacy and threats of violence.  

Her position in the state legislature as an advocate for racial, economic and reproductive justice has led her to be targeted by opponents, she said.  

She said she’s been followed, received racist memes and felt unsafe to the point where she’s notified the FBI. But she says none of this will quiet her or change how she does her job. 

“I do not want to be a storyteller,” Walker, 46, said. “But I will be a truth teller.”  

Walker became the only Black woman elected as a West Virginia delegate in 2018.   

Two years later, in a previously unreported incident, Walker said she was followed by a group of white men in a pickup truck as she made her way to a Sept. 12, 2020, Black Lives Matter rally in Kingwood, which is located in a West Virginia legislative district bordering the one she represents. 

She had just dropped her oldest son off at work — something she did often because he has narcolepsy and cannot drive — and began the hourlong drive from Morgantown to Preston County. After some time driving along back roads, Walker noticed a white Dodge pickup truck with four men following her. They were white, and dressed identically in polo shirts and khakis, she said. 

As she continued her drive, she could see them in the rearview mirror of her Suburban, which had her name painted across the back window, yelling angrily and pointing in her direction. 

Walker couldn’t tell if the men were armed but she felt threatened, so she turned into a McDonald’s parking lot. The truck followed her there as well. 

Walker, who was not armed, said she had her “Martin Luther King Jr./Malcolm X moment” at that point and jumped out of her car to face down the men. 

Standing next to her Suburban with her hands raised, Walker shouted to the men in the truck, “I’m right here. Shoot if you must, but do not take this hate to this peaceful protest.” 

Walker then said a white woman at the drive-thru noticed Walker and came over to ask what was going on. As Walker explained where she was headed and that the men were following her, the woman called her husband, paid for Walker’s food and escorted her to the rally.   

“As I was ordering, I thought at that moment this is going to be my last supper,” Walker said, her voice catching. “But I stood firm because I said I was gonna be there. This is not my district. This is not even my county. But these are my people.”  

Though Walker did not file a police report on the four white men, she said she did file one after the rally for receiving an assassination threat. 

Walker has had to wear body armor at many of the events she attends, including peaceful protests, and she now carries a handgun. Before these incidents, she said, she only kept shotguns and rifles in her home. 

Even in her own district, she has received threatening messages.  

On the first day of Black History Month this year, Berkeley County West Virginians for Life, an anti-abortion rights organization, sent Walker a meme of a klansman dressed in full garb throwing up a Nazi salute.   

The caption read, “What do you think the coward hiding under his dunce cap and face mask thinks every time he hears about a black child has been aborted? Be Pro-Life as if your race depended on it! It’s the America thing to do!”  

Walker is a staunch advocate for abortion rights, and she has been open about her own abortion. The meme, she said, was sent after she and a colleague introduced legislation to reverse the abortion bans and barriers in West Virginia. Walker received the meme; her colleague did not. 

Walker shared the message she received in the chamber a few days later, calling it one of the most “disrespectful, hateful, racist” messages she had ever received. But she also sent a message to those who sent her the email, telling them it’s time to stop “hiding” behind the First Amendment.  

“For some of you who have only seen a white sheet and that hat on movies but not up close and personal, you are privileged,” said Walker, according to The Washington Post.

“But some of us who had to see the remnants in our photo album of Black churches being burned down, of Black men and Black children, sons, being hanged in trees or drug behind vehicles or beaten to death or poured with gasoline and set on fire, raping their wives, or even throwing bombs in their homes — how dare you send that to me,” she said.  

In a letter posted later, Richard Desmoske, president of Berkeley County West Virginians for Life, apologized for the “clearly racist image” and said he only meant to “point out that racists would likely support the eugenic abortion of Black people.”   

“In an effort to oppose racism, I composed a poorly designed and easily misunderstood meme that unintentionally conveyed racism,” he said, adding that he was resigning from his position.  

Walker has filed a civil lawsuit against West Virginians for Life and Desmoske, stating in the initial filing in February that she believes her safety has been threatened. She wears a protective vest in and around the state Capitol, according to Metro News.   

It’s not the only time Walker says she has faced threats. She said she’s asked law enforcement and federal officials, including the FBI, for more security to no avail. Walker’s own campaign now pays for her security, but because campaigns are not allowed to pay for security, he is called an “assistant,” she added.  

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) did not immediately respond to requests for comments about the threats to Walker’s safety, but Walker has previously sent a letter asking the governor to publicly denounce white supremacy. 

Justice had the state police and the West Virginia Human Rights Commission have reached out to Walker. “The only other thing I would add is; whether it be either side, no matter what it be, we do not need to tolerate at any level of hate, hatred and hate speech going on anywhere,” he said to WDTV

Walker said her experiences — and need for security — have left her overly cautious about everyone she meets, from car mechanics to physicians to the pharmacists she talks to.   

“I don’t walk my neighborhood,” Walker said. “Not every day of every hour do I want security. My body has lifetime scars from wearing that body armor.”  

“I have not stopped crying since 2019, and I am not a crier. It’s the trauma. It’s the PTSD. It hurts [my family] to know that I need such strong security measures for just existing.”  

Walker said she’s thought about stepping down from office and in 2020 debated seeking reelection. She eventually decided that having the chance to be a voice for her constituents is a privilege.   

“When I introduce myself, and I say I am Delegate Danielle Walker, that is a declaration of who, whom and whose I am. That delegate is the people’s title. It doesn’t belong to me. And I need to respect that,” she said.  

“I take this job of being the people’s champ very seriously,” Walker added. “I make sure that those voters, supporters, donors are represented with every piece of legislation, every vote I cast, every speech I give, every platform that I’m on. When I take that oath … it doesn’t say that I just only represent the people in my district. I represent every person who is within the borders of West Virginia whether they can vote, whether they have an address or not, whether they are passing through or not. Y’all means all.” 

This story was updated at 9:24 a.m.

Tags abortion Black Lives Matter Danielle Walker racism west virginia

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