To the Editor:

The Promised Land?

In 1965, my husband, Robert P. Levine, went off to Mississippi to work as an attorney for President Kennedy’s Commission for Civil Rights Under Law. Among the incidents he recorded was a run-in with Sheriff Rainey and Deputy Price, later accused in the killings of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney.

Thirty-one years later, he wrote an article looking back on 1965 to see what had been accomplished and asked, “Were our efforts as lawyers successful? Did the deaths of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney mean anything?”

In that 1989 article, he came to two different conclusions.

In the public sphere — buses, water fountains, waiting rooms — there was progress.

On the other hand, “The promised land we dreamed of in 1965 is not around the corner, or even in sight ... Mississippi may not be burning in 1989, but America, with all its prosperity and economic success, seems to be well on its way to establishing a permanent underclass made up of Blacks and other minorities. Maybe that’s what James Cheney’s mother meant when she wondered if her son’s death made any difference at all.”

Unfortunately, his 1989 summary is even truer in 2020 than it was when he wrote it. The pandemic has revealed this to the nation, pulling back a curtain on the disparity in rates of infection and death.

Our nation’s neglect of health care, housing, food security, and a living wage has indeed created that “permanent underclass of Blacks and other minorities.” Many of these are the very people who continued to drive our buses, collect our garbage, and work in our hospitals throughout the virus emergency.

Perhaps Robert, who died in 2013, would be most shocked by the efforts of people, 55 years later, to stifle voting. The right to vote was a battle he thought we’d won.

It turns out in 2020 that we can’t take anything for granted when it comes to voting. From the Supreme Court to local districts, safeguards have been rolled back.

What can we do? Be sure you are registered to vote, then make sure you get yourself and others out to vote on Nov. 3, or send in your absentee ballot as soon as you receive it, following all the directions carefully.

If you have time, work to facilitate voting elsewhere. We can do this. We can gather momentum to move forward, not backward.

Betty Krasne

Kent