Black Democrats, Conflicted on a Voting Rights Push, Fear It’s Too Late

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To Jackson’s tight-knit voting rights community, members of which view themselves as torchbearers in the mold of Mr. Figgers and Mr. Evers, it’s all evidence of a lingering absence of urgency.

“If the people who were most impacted by this were white people, Democrats would’ve done something about this a long time ago,” said Rukia Lumumba, the executive director of the People’s Advocacy Institute in Jackson. Her brother is the mayor of Jackson and her late father also held that role. “They thought, ‘Oh, that’s just the South,’ and not that what we’ve experienced here was coming to the rest of the country.”

Mr. Holder, who now runs a group that focuses on redistricting and ballot access, said he would encourage senators to eliminate the filibuster to pass the For the People Act, if necessary. His group and its partners plan to spend $30 million to pitch the legislation to voters in states with key senators, including Arizona, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“The stakes are the condition of our democracy,” Mr. Holder said. “This is more than a partisan ‘who wins and who loses?’ game. If we are not successful in H.R. 1 or H.R. 4, I am really worried our democracy will be fundamentally and irreparably harmed.”

He added, “We will still have elections every two years or every four years, but they could almost be rendered close to meaningless.”

Mr. Holder has also found himself acting as something of a voting rights ambassador among Democrats: Last month, on a virtual call with the Congressional Black Caucus, he was brought in because several of the caucus’s older members had deep reservations about the For the People Act, according to those familiar with the call’s planning, a rare rift between Democratic leadership and the group often called “the conscience of the Congress.”

In fact, Representative Thompson was the only Democrat to vote against the bill in the House, reversing his stance as a previous co-sponsor. In the weeks since, Mr. Thompson has declined several requests from The New York Times to explain his vote, or to respond to constituents who say it was at odds with Southern Democrats’ rich history of defending Black voting rights.

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