On this day in 1963, Byron De La Beckwith assassinated Medgar Evers.

At my old job, I used to teach a course called, “America in the 1960s”. Why was I teaching so far out of my field? First, because I don’t really have a field. And second, because when I was up for the job, the hiring committee asked if I could teach the class. What was I going to say? No? I don’t think so. Seriously, if there was a job I wanted back then, and getting it hinged on being able to cobble together an undergraduate class, I would have figured out a way to teach modern dance, particle physics, or torts. Of course, having told the hiring committee that I could teach the course, it turned out that they expected me to make good on my promise.

What resulted was a quarter-long debunking project. Undergraduates think they intuitively get the 60s. The past, in this case, is is not a foreign country. They’ve watched the decade depicted on television and in film. Their parents or grandparents lived through the era. And they totally dig Hendrix, Country Joe, Janis, and all the rest. So I had to explain to them that, yes, the 60s were a time of extraordinary promise and some significant progress, but they weren’t really all that groovy.

The above clip — actually a slightly expanded version from the Eyes on the Prize series — made the case for me better than anything else I used: Anne Moody, Michael Herr, The War at Home, even Thich Quang Duc. Myrlie Evers’s dignity bleeds into tragedy as she describes her husband trying to claw his way across the threshold of their home while their children cowered inside. Watching her fight to remain composed woke my students to the reality that people their parents’ age, people whose children might have been their age, died struggling for equality. And suddenly, my students’ ostensible familiarity with the 60s became a teaching tool.