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Hillary Clinton revisits race issue near Ferguson

Clinton’s emphasis on race is personal, her campaign says, going back to a speech she saw of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s as a teenager.

FLORISSANT, Missouri – Last year, Hillary Clinton waited 19 days to discuss the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer in nearby Ferguson, drawing criticism from black leaders.

But on Tuesday, as she dives into the fraught issue of race on her second presidential campaign, Clinton will visit a black church here to discuss the topic just four miles from the place where the unarmed black teenager was shot and killed.

Clinton will meet privately with local elected officials before holding a more public meeting at Christ the King Church, whose pastor has been involved in post-Ferguson recovery efforts.

RELATED: Hillary Clinton finally speaks out on Ferguson

Brown’s death sparked weeks of unrest and an intense police crackdown, making the St. Louis suburb ground zero of a national conversation about race and biased policing. Many storefronts remain boarded up and anti-police graffiti can still be found on West Florrisant Avenue, which was the epicenter of protests.

While she may have been slow recognize the potency of the "Black Lives Matter" movement, Clinton has since seized on lingering racial inequities. That’s especially since the racially motivated shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina last week, just hours after she left the city.

Tuesday will mark the third time Clinton has publicly addressed the shooting in the past six days. At a conference with Latino leaders in Las Vegas Thursday, Clinton said the country need to grapple with “hard truths” on race. And in San Francisco Saturday, she called for stamping out latent racism beyond “kooks and the Klansman.”

When Clinton’s trip to the St. Louis area was first reported by msnbc last month, local black leaders discussed amongst themselves the need for Clinton to visit Ferguson. Some said they made it known to her campaign they they would be disappointed if she did not come.

But not all were satisfied with her visit to Florissant, the next town over.

“[G]oing to Florissant isn't the same as going to #ferguson. Close, but no cigar,” tweeted state Rep. Courtney Curtis of Ferguson. “You want to be President? Go to #Ferguson”.

Curtis said he got a call from the Clinton campaign about attending the meeting with Clinton, but refused, saying he’ll be in Ferguson. “Don't follow the @GovJayNixon playbook, he went to Florrissant and you see how that worked out,” Curtis added, referring to the Democratic Missouri governor who lost support among blacks over his hands-off handling of Ferguson.

The Democratic presidential candidate had earlier signaled she would be working hard to win over black voters, who abandoned the Clinton family for Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary.

Clinton’s emphasis on race is personal, her campaign says, going back to a speech she saw of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s as a teenager, which was a key moment in her political awakening.

It’s smart politics. African-Americans are a key constituency in the Democratic primary, especially in the early nominating state of South Carolina.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, her current top opponent for the nomination, hails from a state that is nearly 95% white. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another top opponent, may have difficulty shedding baggage from his tough-on-crime police record on Baltimore.

By locking down the black vote early, and earning support of key leaders, Clinton could effectively build a firewall in South Carolina and other states in case a challenger surges.

And she’ll need to energize black voters to get them to the polls in the general election, should she make it, to avoid too much drop-off from coalition that elected Obama twice.