JACKSON, MISS. -- Gov. Ray Mabus, a white Democrat, last week welcomed a mostly black group of workers from the civil rights movement of the 1960s to a reception at the official mansion. The occasion was the 25th anniversary of the activists' challenge to the state's anti-black voting laws.

During the munching and the hand-shaking and the proclaiming and the freedom singing for the occasion, it "felt like Ross Barnett {the former segregationist governor} was gonna jump out and slap me," said Dorie Ladner, an activist from movement days and now a social worker at D.C. General Hospital.

In the politics of race, there are always ghosts from the past. To have struggled in the Mississippi movement is to never forget.

About 200 of these movement people who found common cause 25 years ago in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party gathered here last week to reminisce, to reconnect and regroup in the face of a dramatically altered national political landscape.

Although their victory is distant now, the movement's rallying cry, coined by Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the best-known congressional candidates of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, remains valid. It was: "It ain't over yet."

"It ain't over until we agree to a righteous new level of commitment which recognizes the limitations of where we've come from over the past 25 years and where we still have to go," Annie Devine, now 79, who took the Mississippi challenge to Washington along with Hamer and Victoria Gray Adams, said in a call to action opening the commemoration Thursday night.

Black votes count and more blacks are being elected than ever. Here, the state has its first black congressman since Reconstruction, Mike Espy, a Democrat. Mabus probably wouldn't be where he is without the votes of blacks, who in this state are more than one-third of the population.

Nevertheless, an increasing number of black officials have become the subject of prosecutions nationwide, which movement people here described as persecution. That concern was raised time and again during the meeting here.

And while it is the era of L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia (D), the nation's first black elected governor, there is also David Duke, a Republican -- although his candidacy was disavowed by the GOP -- and former Ku Klux Klansman who earlier this month failed in his attempt to become a senator from Louisiana but got 44 percent of the vote (nearly 60 percent of the white vote) in the process.

The strength of the liberal Democratic consensus that gave the civil rights movement its national muscle is being challenged, and not only in electoral politics.

The Supreme Court is no longer friendly to the issues on which the movement was made. A major civil rights bill pending in Congress would overturn five recent court decisions that civil rights activists say restrict the ability of women and minorities to prevail in job discrimination lawsuits.

"We're now facing a Supreme Court that we no longer have any access to," said Lawrence Guyot, former chairman of the freedom party, now a neighborhood commissioner in the District.

The movement people here grappled with this changed landscape and tried to teach some school-age participants what it all means.

"We're always going forward and backward at the same time, so there are always indicators of progress and there are always indicators of reaction," said Rims Barber, a white minister who came here for the Freedom Summer of 1964 and stayed.

"If you look at the politics of race and partisanship, the fight is going to be in Congress," Guyot said.

That, he said, is one of the lessons of the past. "Mississippi provided the litmus test of moving from civil rights to political action."

The freedom party, formed to give disenfranchised blacks a role in electoral politics, challenged the right of this state's white representatives to be sworn into the House in 1965.

The challenge failed. But the support it gained in the House -- 149 votes -- helped set the stage for the passage later that year of the Voting Rights Act. The challenge was mounted by an army of black Mississippians and white lawyers -- such as William M. Kunstler, Morton Stavis and Arthur Kinoy -- who took 10,000 pages of depositions documenting the poll tax, blacks fired from their jobs for registering and blacks assaulted and killed for trying to get the vote.

White and black students and sympathizers flooded into the state from the North, helping field workers from SNCC and other groups organize black residents.

Some -- such as James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner -- were killed by white segregationists. Others, such as Hamer and Guyot, were severely beaten in jail.

On the campus of Tougaloo College here -- where many of the black Mississippi activists were educated and where some of last week's celebration took place -- Mike Thelwell, a former SNCC and freedom party organizer, said the movement was about heroism. "The perceived wisdom was that you couldn't organize political resistance in Mississippi, that it was too primitive, too violent," said Thelwell, a literature professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The movement, said Owen Brooks, a field representative for Espy who worked for voting rights, was "the manifestation of the struggle of people to better their condition." That is what the movement remains, he said, although now the issue is controlling the vote. "Control is a problem: Who controls the constituency."

Hollis Watkins was a SNCC field secretary here during the movement's heyday. Today, he still is organizing local people, especially in rural parts of the state, and still working against obstacles to voter registration.

"When you look at the movement today," Watkins said, "I don't think you see the movement as one big movement as much as you did in the early '60s, because the level of activity by the local organizations is not at the level as it was at that time," he said.

"Some of the issues have changed but some of the issues are still here because we still have a lot of people who are not registered."

Watkins said people believe there has been more change than has occurred. There is more talk about change than actual change, he said.

Surveying the room of movement people celebrating the old days , he said: "Some of them, I think it's nostalgia, and others, it's recommitment. A lot of the people you see here are continuing the struggle."