Nikuyah Walker

  • Was elected to the City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017
  • Served as mayor of Charlottesville from 2018-2022
  • Views America as a deeply racist country

Background

Nikuyah Walker was born in 1980 and grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia. She gave birth to the first of her three children when she was an unwed teenager. After graduating with a B.A. degree in Political Science from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2004, Walker worked for various nonprofit groups in roles such as substance abuse clinician, HIV prevention educator, and community organizer. She also spent time working for the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department.

Claiming That Societal Racism Affected Her from an Early Age

Walker says that her youth as a black female in Charlottesville was “tough,” particularly as regards the high rate at which the city’s black residents were caught up in the criminal-justice system. “I don’t know a black native person [in Charlottesville] who does not have a significant percentage of their family who’s either been incarcerated or is still incarcerated,” she said in a 2018 interview.

Launching a Political Career to Fight What She Viewed As Pervasive Racism

Dissatisfied with what she saw as the Democratic Party’s failure to successfully address the racial and economic issues that were affecting the lives of African Americans, Walker launched a campaign for a seat on the Charlottesville City Council in March 2017. Her campaign slogan was “Unmasking the Illusion” — i.e., the illusion “that we are a town that everybody [including blacks] can thrive in.”

Although officially unaffiliated with any political party, Walker’s policy positions are largely consistent with those of the Democratic Party. Noting that “the normal for black, Hispanic, or low-income white people in this city is not a normal they want to return to,” she advocated in favor of a minimum wage of up to $21 per hour. Red, black, and green — the colors representative of black nationalism, pan-Africanism, and Black Liberation – were prominent in her campaign literature and rally décor.

Walker & the 2017 “Unite the Right” Rally in Charlottesville

Walker’s campaign gained enormous momentum in the aftermath of the infamous August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. That event was originally organized for the very explicit purpose of protesting the proposed removal, from a local park, of an equestrian statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. According to various reports, the protesters were composed of two very distinct and dissimilar contingents of people: (a) aggressive and hateful white supremacists with neo-Nazi sympathies, and (b) others who had no racial or anti-Semitic animus but simply wished to voice their disapproval regarding the Lee statue’s removal. Meanwhile, a large group of counter-protesters likewise included two very distinct and dissimilar contingents: (a) those who supported the statue’s removal and wished to make their feelings known in a nonviolent public forum, and (b) hundreds of people who were affiliated with Antifa, a revolutionary Marxist/anarchist militia movement.

On the morning of Saturday, August 12, 2017, the most radical and combustible elements on both sides of the Lee statue debate began to engage in violence against one another. By noon—at which time the rally was scheduled to begin—both the City of Charlottesville and the Governor of Virginia had declared a state of emergency due to the “imminent threat” of potential injuries and property destruction, and police cleared the scene of all persons. Then, at about 1:40 p.m., a deranged white supremacist, after being chased, rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters who were still in the vicinity, killing one white woman and injuring numerous other people.

In a subsequent interview with NPR, candidate Walker claimed that the Unite the Right rally had highlighted the fact that the notion of racially harmony existing within the United States was nothing more than an “illusion”: “So before, people would ask me, what do you mean by the illusion? After the rally, they stopped asking me that question. This whole notion that we are a post-racial society and everybody can thrive in Charlottesville — they had to stop and ask themselves, why Charlottesville? Why us? Why now? And, you know, people want to talk just about [Confederate] statues. But it’s deeper than the statues.” Walker also stated that the two white men who were the principal organizers of the Charlottesville rally personified “the history of white supremacy in this country.”

Political Support from the DSA

In November 2017 the Charlottesville Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) endorsed Walker’s bid for City Council, promoting her as an advocate for such things as a “living wage,” “affordable housing,” and “environmental justice.”

Charlottesville City Council

On November 7, 2017, Walker received a nearly 29% plurality of the vote and was thereby elected to the Charlottesville city council, becoming the first independent candidate to win a council seat since the 1940s.

Two months later, in January 2018, the city council voted by a 4-1 margin to appoint Walker as mayor of Charlottesville. It should be noted that in Charlottesville, the position of mayor is more ceremonial than influential. As the publication Charlottesville Tomorrow explains:

“While Charlottesville’s mayors have been seen as figureheads for the city, they are not the person pulling the levers of day to day management. That’s because Charlottesville’s government is structured with a ‘weak mayor.’  The National League of Cities differentiates between the types of mayors as ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ [to] distinguish each mayor’s level of authority and responsibility…. A strong mayor is one … who is elected separately from a council and is essentially boss of the city. A strong mayor executes the policies that the council passes and handles local government administration, like overseeing staff and crafting budgets. … A weak mayor is a member of the city council that is selected by other members of the council to serve in the ceremonial role. They are a chairperson that runs council meetings, and they can also be the most visible member of the legislative body to the public.”

Characterizing America and its Founders As Racist

In an August 2018 interview with CBS’s Face the Nation, Walker lamented that “deep-seated racism” was still indelibly ingrained in American culture: “I think if you start talking about the issues that we’re facing around the country that relate to race and class, you can put Charlottesville up there as a city to study, and you’ll find all the major disparities exist, And we hear these stories all across the country. We heard them in, you know, Florida with Trayvon Martin, and [Michael Brown in] Ferguson, and with Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Like, we hear these stories about people who are just shocked at where we are in our communities in regards to racism. But even once the facts are presented, people really don’t want to change their actions to help truly heal that. […] We look all over this nation and you have symbols of white supremacy up, right, all over the place that you can look and it says that white is superior right? It tells the story-people look around them and all they see is symbols portraits of white faces. So that story of just white dominance over all is something that we have struggled with as a country.”

In the same interview, Walker, noting that Charlottesville was Thomas Jefferson’s hometown, disparaged the former president as follows: “[Y]ou’re talking about a president who enslaved people and built his empire off the backs of black people. So that’s the truth that we we don’t want to tell, right? You’re talking about [a] world-class university [the University of Virginia, which is located in Charlottesville], but who is in that university? Who’s able to walk those grounds, versus who built the university? That university was built off of enslaved laborers.”

In March 2019, Walker proposed that Jefferson’s birthday, which was a paid city holiday in Charlottesville, should be replaced with “Liberation and Freedom Day” to commemorate the emancipation of slaves in the area.

In 2019, Walker denounced then-City Council candidate Lloyd Snook, a white Democrat who had served as a longtime defense attorney and had represented many nonwhite minorities charged with serious crimes throughout his years of practice, for being “as ‘white is right’ as one can get.” Walker used her personal social media account to post the following remarks about Snook: “The people who support you are interested in maintaining the status quo. All of you should be ashamed of yourselves. We have this brief opportunity to work on healing this city and here you come with your #45 spin (make America great again/make the government work again) to work from the inside to railroad any potential progress. White men like you always have been dangerous and I’m sure that you will continue that tradition. Do better!” (“#45” was a reference to Donald Trump, America’s 45th president.)

After the infamous death of George Floyd in late May of 2020, Walker issued a passionate written statement about the incident:

“The lynching of George Floyd follows an infinite history of white brutality against Black Lives. From the time that bodies were stolen from the coasts of Africa to present day, white people have failed to see us as human…. We have been labeled something other than human for so long that the ability to breathe is constantly decided by white officers to not be a physiological human right for Black people…. As the Mayor of the City of Charlottesville, I denounce this evil brutality. There is nothing just about the murder of innocent people. There is nothing just about the ‘shoot first, think later’ mentality that is so pervasive in police departments across this country…. There is nothing just about the devaluation America has placed on Black Lives and the constant danger it puts us in. To my Black people: I see you. I grieve with you. I breathe fear with you. And I will continue to fight for us and demand that white America stop murdering, stealing, and restricting our breaths….In this moment, I breathe with you in honor of all those who have had their breath stolen. I will protect your breath from my little corner of the world and continue to implore others to do the same. Breathe!”

In a June 2020 interview, Walker told Vogue magazine that she supported a plan to take school resource officers (SROs) – law-enforcement personnel usually employed by a police agency — out of the local public schools. It was a plan founded upon the premise that police officers tend to be racists, and that school disciplinary measures are generally too hard on black children. The interviewer asked: “Charlottesville recently removed school resource officers (SRO) from the public school system. Do you feel there is further action to be taken in the way policing works there?” Walker replied: “In the world that I would create, we wouldn’t need police, but that’s not where we live. If something tragic happens, like what happened here in 2017, we’re going to want to be able to call someone. That is not the experience of the Black community here. Most of their interactions with our police department have been negative…. Our public school system is an institution that mimics the prison-industrial complex … We don’t want a school system that feeds Black and brown children to the prison system.”

The Vogue interviewer asked further: “I feel two major lines of thinking have recently emerged: One says that the way to fix systemic racism is by replacing the people in power with people of color. The other says that racism is the white person’s responsibility to fix. Where do you stand?” Walker replied: “The leadership has to change—what that looks like and who that is. If you’re talking about 15 issues that happen in the Black community, white people who have only a dictionary-definition understanding of what’s going on are not going to be able to resolve those issues. So that’s part of it. I think asking Black people to teach you is one thing, and moving out of their way so they can resolve the issues that you created, that’s a totally different thing. In Charlottesville, I’ve been asking that they move out of the way and allow the issues to be resolved by the people who are being affected. Reality has shown that most people who are not affected—even the ones with the best intentions—can’t fix it. And then there are the white people who are in the room only to derail the process. We have to admit to all of those things.”

Walker’s preoccupations with race resurfaced again in a March 24, 2021 tweet referencing an article about Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. Wrote Walker: “thomas jefferson raped Sally Hemings. He ‘owned’ and raped her. How repulsed do you think she use [sic] to be as she laundered his fluids and scent out of the linens that he raped her on?”

On May 24, 2021, Walker wrote in a tweet: “Charlottesville: The beautiful-ugly it is. It rapes you, comforts you in its cum stained sheet and tells you to keep its secrets.” After a backlash against her crude reference to ejaculate, Walker removed the reference to male ejaculate and tweeted a longer version of the poem. Complete with grammatical errors, it read as follows:

“Charlottesville: The beautiful-ugly it is. It lynched you, hung the noose at city hall and pressed the souvenir that was once your finger against its lips. It covers your death with its good intentions. It is a place where white women with Black kids collects [sic] signature for a white man who questions whether a black woman understands white supremacy. It is destructively world class. White people say that it is a place where gentrification started with the election of a Black women [sic] in 2017 and because of white power, a lie becomes #facts. Its daily practice is that of separating you from your soul. Charlottesville is void of a moral compass. It’s as if good ole tj [i.e. Thomas Jefferson] is still cleverly using his whip to whip the current inhabitants into submissiveness. Charlottesville rapes you of your breaths. It suffocates your hopes and dreams. It liberates you by conveniently redefining liberation. It progressively chants while it conservatively acts. Charlottesville is anchored in white supremacy and rooted in racism. Charlottesville rapes you and covers you in sullied sheets.”

When a crane operator removed the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from its pedestal in Charlottesville in July 2021 — nearly four years after the aforementioned “Unite The Right” rally — Walker said: “Taking down this statue is one small step closer to the goal of helping Charlottesville, Virginia, and America, grapple with the sin of being willing to destroy black people for economic gain.”

Walker Announces That She Will Not Seek Re-Election As Mayor in 2021

In September 2021, Walker announced that she had decided not run in the upcoming mayoral election in November. Citing the physical and emotional toll that the job of mayor was taking on her, she explained: “Fighting overt, covert, and internalized racism everyday, and feeling really alone while doing that… I still get up, and I do it, I do all my work, and I stay up late fighting with people, and I still stay up late and get my work done. It’s really taken a toll on me and my family. It’s been a really difficult process.”  “I’m not choosing me, even though I’m exhausted, and my hair is turning gray,” Walker continued. “My friends ask me, ‘What is your body telling you?’ and my body is telling me you are all destroying me.”

Walker Steps Down from Mayoralty

Walker officially stepped down from her post as mayor on January 5, 2022.

Footnotes

Racist Mayor: Nikuyah Walker
By Matthew Vadum
June 25, 2021