The Voice of God tells us that Hillary Clinton gets it. She has internalized the civil rights struggle of our time.

"She says their names . . . and makes their mothers' fight for justice her own," intones Morgan Freeman, cast often as the Almighty during his acting career, in a 30-second TV ad airing last week in the Philadelphia market for Clinton's presidential campaign.

Between those lines, Freeman and Clinton recite a partial litany of African Americans felled by gun violence and police misconduct: Trayvon Martin. Dontre Hamilton. Sandra Bland.

It was no accident that "Stand" was one of Clinton's first ads in Pennsylvania, or that she made sure to drop in on a group of black and Latino young men at a Kensington job-training program during a Philadelphia campaign stop this month.

In New York last week, Clinton spoke to the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference, pledging to work for environmental justice, reduced gun violence, and police reform.

Black voters have propelled Clinton to the verge of the Democratic nomination, consistently awarding her massive margins in primaries, particularly in the South.

She needs strong turnout from African American communities to win Tuesday in New York, the state she represented in the Senate for eight years, and on April 26 in Pennsylvania as she seeks to snuff out a strong challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

In both states, the primaries are closed, meaning only registered Democrats can participate. Sanders has performed best in primaries that allow independents to vote. Advantage: Hillary.

"And she's got her firewall of African American voters," said Philadelphia-based Democratic strategist David Dunphy, who is not working on either presidential campaign. "She should win big here."

That is, if the 1990s, the anachronistic ghost that has haunted the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries from the start, does not get out of hand.

There have been awkward moments in the former first lady's courtship of black voters. In Thursday's CNN debate, Sanders attacked her for using "racist" terminology as first lady in 1996 when she spoke of teen "super-predators" threatening neighborhoods as she championed the get-tough crime policies of her husband, President Bill Clinton.

The Big Dog himself, who had seemed sedate and senior-statesmanlike while campaigning for his wife this year, got into a finger-wagging, red-faced dispute with a pair of protesters at a recreation center in Northwest Philadelphia this month. They blasted the "super-predator" remark and echoed the rhetoric of the Black Lives Matter movement.

That activist group, along with others on the left, has regularly criticized both Clintons for the effect of the 1994 crime bill, which they blame for higher incarceration rates among black men.

"I don't know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped on crack and sent them out on the street to murder other African American children," Bill Clinton told the protesters. "You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter. Tell the truth!"

The next day, in Erie, the former president said, "I almost want to apologize" for having hectored the protesters. He expressed regret that he and they had talked past each other instead of having a constructive conversation.

Some analysts speculated the wily ex-president was pivoting toward the general election and actually addressing white voters when he dressed down the protesters.

They remembered the Sister Souljah moment. In 1992, the political activist and hip-hop artist suggested after the Los Angeles riots that "if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?" At a convention organized by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, then-candidate Bill Clinton compared her with ex-Klansman David Duke.

"We have an obligation, all of us, to call attention to prejudice whenever we see it," Clinton said then.

His stance - along with initiatives such as the crime bill and his welfare-reform law - came to be seen as part of the Democratic Party's attempt to rebrand itself in the 1990s. No longer did it want to be seen as preoccupied with interest-group politics and cultural liberalism, but as a creature of the political center, focused on the middle class. A party that could appeal anew to voters it had lost: Reagan Democrats.

The strategy worked, with a long stretch of economic growth under the Clinton administration that remains an asset for Hillary Clinton's campaign, particularly among older voters.

"It was the greatest time of prosperity for African Americans in modern history," said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D., N.Y.). "We remember."

Bill Clinton's Philadelphia outburst seemed less a calculated political ploy and more an awkward reminder that the terms of the racial debate have changed over the last quarter-century, as have perceptions of the Clinton administration itself and its brand of pragmatic liberalism.

"It was appalling - he came across as still stuck in the '90s, when Democrats had to be tough on crime in order to win," said Rebecca Kirszner Katz, a strategist at Hilltop Public Solutions and former adviser to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"That's not where the Democratic Party is going now," Kirszner Katz said.

As Sanders' challenge shows, the center of gravity in the Democratic Party has crept to the left, Kirszner Katz said. Now, the fight for black equality is about more than political representation; it's about street-level encounters with the police and resistance to the mass incarceration for which the 1990s crime bill is often blamed.

Shifts can be seen in other areas. The free-trade agreements (NAFTA, for example) that Bill Clinton fiercely advocated are now seen by many Democrats as contributing to the hollowing-out of the middle class. As president, he supported deregulation of financial institutions and staffed his administration's economic team with Wall Streeters.

Now, Democrats cast a skeptical eye at all these things, putting Hillary Clinton on the defensive - for instance, on her lucrative paid speeches to banks.

And though, as President Obama's secretary of state, she praised the pending free-trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, she now opposes that deal.

And she has made the fight against systemic racism a central theme of her candidacy, linking it to her early career work as a public-interest lawyer.

At the National Action Network last week, she spoke passionately about black men killed by police and black children poisoned by lead. She challenged white Americans to "recognize our privilege and practice humility, rather than assume that our experiences are everyone else's experiences."

tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

215-854-2718@tomfitzgerald

www.philly.com/bigtent