From racist memes to hateful emails to being forced to wear body armor because of numerous threats, the only Black woman in legislature in West Virginia, state Rep. Danielle Walker, 46, has endured a deluge of harassment during her two terms.
In an emotional interview with The Hill, Walker talks about the ongoing attacks by white supremacists, including threats on her life.
“I do not want to be a storyteller,” Walker said. “But I will be a truth-teller.”
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Walker, who gives a voice to the 4% of Black voters in the state, tells The Hill about the time she was followed in her car on the way to a Black Lives Matter protest.
Walker explains that she was driving along small rural roads when she saw a white Dodge pickup truck following her. The driver and three passengers were all white men, wearing matching polo shirts and khakis. The men looked angry, she said, and were pointing at her Suburban, which had her name emblazoned on the back.
Feeling threatened, she pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot and ended up meeting a customer who escorted her to the protest.
Walker, who was elected in 2018, began wearing body armor and carrying a handgun to events.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Walker described an email she received on the first day of Black History Month in 2022. The subject read “your plan.” The body of the email included an image of a Ku Klux Klansman giving a Nazi salute. It was captioned: “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!”
In a Facebook live post a month after receiving the email, Walker said she no longer felt safe at the Capitol.
“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,” the state representative said. “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 added.
Walker filed suit against the Berkeley County anti-abortion organization West Virginians for Life, and its president Richard Desmoske, who sent the email. Desmoske apologized for the “racist image” and alleged that it was intended to “point out that racists would likely support the eugenic abortion of Black people.”
Walker said the email was a “the modern-day digital equivalent of burning a cross in Delegate Walker’s front yard. Everyone knows that burning a cross in the front yard means ‘do what we white supremacists want, or we are coming back, and it will be worse when we do.’”
Although Walker is a fighter—in 2021, her first child, Demetry Walker, died of leukemia at the age of 33—she remains anxious and feels that West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice should do more to protect her.
In 2020, during the Black Lives Matter protests, Walker wrote a letter to the governor asking that he denounce white supremacy in the state.
She ended the letter by writing, “Hate is not making America Great. This Mountaineer does NOT feel FREE.”
Today, Walker says she does not walk around in her neighborhood for fear of her safety.
“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.”
She tells The Hill she thought she may step down in 2020 and not seek reelection but ultimately decided against it and takes pride in speaking for her constituents.
“I take this job of being the people’s champ very seriously,” Walker said. “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.”