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Clockwise from top left: Mike Espy, Joy-Ann Reid, Jaime Harrison, Royce West, Raphael Warnock, Charles Booker.

There are five black men running for U.S. Senate in the South as Democrats who could not only make history, but are using this unique moment to have difficult, intimate conversations about being black in America.

Why it matters: There have only been 10 black senators in U.S. history, and it wasn't until 2013 that two African Americans simultaneously served in the Senate.

  • Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) currently serve.

The big picture: For the country, this moment isn’t just about addressing and rectifying the issue of police brutality against black Americans; it’s about rethinking and reforming the very institutions and systems that have come to define our country through the racial inequities they impose.

  • It's that calculus that's changing who's running and who the country thinks is the right type of person to fill these roles and work on these long-term issues.

The Southern five:

  • Mississippi: Former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy
  • South Carolina: Former SC Democratic Party chair Jaime Harrison
  • Kentucky: State Rep. Charles Booker
  • Georgia: Rev. Raphael Warnock, who gave the eulogy at the private funeral service for Rayshard Brooks. Warnock is the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor.
  • Texas: State Sen. Royce West

And in Michigan, businessman and veteran John James is running as a Republican.

  • “We need the first-hand lived experience of somebody who understands what it’s like to walk around in black skin and recognizes the urgency of the situation demands action, not more talk,” he told MLive.

Between the lines: America's lack of black senators is particularly jarring in the South.

  • Mississippi is 38% black
  • Louisiana is 33%
  • Georgia is 32%
  • Alabama and South Carolina are at 27%
  • North Carolina is 22%
  • Tennessee and Florida are 17%
  • Arkansas is 16%
  • Texas is 13%
  • Kentucky is 8%

The bottom line: “In a country that has never had two black senators from the same state serve at the same time, hope is right here standing before you," Harrison said this year at an MLK Day event in Columbia, South Carolina.

Editor's note: This post has been corrected to remove the incorrect information that State Rep. Charles Booker was a former principal.

Go deeper

Coronavirus cases increase in 17 states

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

Coronavirus infections ticked up slightly over the past week, thanks to scattered outbreaks in every region of the country.

Where it stands: The U.S. has been making halting, uneven progress against the virus since August. Overall, we're moving in the right direction, but we're often taking two steps forward and one step back.

DOJ pressed to enforce Al Jazeera foreign agent ruling

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Justice Department is being pressed to enforce its own demand that the U.S. arm of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera register as a foreign agent.

Why it matters: The launch of Al Jazeera's new right-of-center U.S. media venture, Rightly, has refocused attention on the media company's alleged links to Doha, and DOJ's efforts to crack down on media outlets viewed as foreign interest mouthpieces.

Poll: Immigration is America's most-polarizing issue

Data: The American Aspirations Index/Populace; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Immigration was found to be the most polarizing issue in America based on new polling from Populace.

Why it matters: Americans have surprisingly similar priorities for the U.S., but immigration stands out as one of the few issues with clear partisan differences. It underscores the challenge for advocates and lawmakers hoping to pass immigration reform in the coming weeks amid narrow margins in Congress.