Des Moines Schools to Host
U.S. Supreme Court Plaintiffs Mary Beth and John Tinker
Almost 50 years after being suspended for wearing black armbands to mourn the dead in the Vietnam War, Mary Beth Tinker and her brother John Tinker have been invited back to the Des Moines schools that they attended in 1965, and that became a birthplace for students’ First Amendment rights after the Tinkers won a landmark case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 10:15 a.m., the Tinkers will address an all-school assembly at John Tinker’s former school, North High School at 501 Holcomb Ave. in the auditorium. A smaller discussion with journalism students will follow.
Later in the day, Mary Beth’s former school, Harding Middle School, will welcome its feisty alumna. At 12:20 p.m., the Tinkers will take part in a “roundtable” discussion with civics students, followed by an 8th grade assembly for civics students in the auditorium from 1:15 to 2 p.m.
At 2:15 p.m., Harding will dedicate a locker and plaque in Mary Beth’s honor, serving as a permanent reminder of her contribution to local and national history. The media is invited to attend both events.
The day prior to that, Mon., Nov. 18 at 7 p.m., the Tinkers will be featured at a public forum at the Des Moines Unitarian Church at 1801 Bell Ave. The topic will be “Youth Voices: Tinker to Today” where Mary Beth and John Tinker will tell their powerful story. They will be joined by Dan Johnston, the ACLU attorney who argued their landmark case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Members of the church youth group will also take part in the program.
The Tinkers visit is part of a three-month national Tinker Tour for civics education that is making more than 50 stops in 18 states in the eastern half of the nation, including the District of Columbia. It is a special project of the Student Press Law Center, which provides free educational and legal assistance to high school and college media. Traveling in a 29-foot RV decorated with the First Amendment, the Tinker Tour highlights the current state of student free speech and civics awareness among America’s young people. The tour has attracted thousands of young persons who want to want talk with Mary Beth Tinker or get her autograph on a commemorative black arm band.
Mary Beth Tinker said, “I am thrilled to be invited back to Harding as part of the Tinker Tour. As I tell students, history changes, so don’t just do what’s popular, do what you really believe. By speaking up, you can make a better world.”
Kevin Klimowski, a social studies teacher from Harding Middle School said, “These issues can only work themselves out through the adversarial process when Constitutional matters are in doubt. For me, Mary Beth and John Tinker and Des Moines Public Schools represent the importance of the legal process in the United States.”
Klimowski says that the legacy of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District had a powerful impact on Mary Beth’s former school and the surrounding communities. Through her case, students have come to understand that “Constitutional interpretations are not reserved for a certain type of person,” he said.
When they challenged their suspensions in 1965, the Tinker siblings became embroiled in a lengthy legal conflict directed by the Iowa ACLU and attorney Dan Johnston. The Tinkers were joined in their lawsuit by Chris Eckhardt, a student at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, who also wore a black armband to school and was suspended. Eckhardt died last year.
In 1969, the Supreme Court handed down its landmark ruling in the Tinker case, upholding the First Amendment rights of public school students. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas wrote the 7-2 majority opinion that neither “students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
The decision has been cited in more than 6,000 court rulings and is included in most American high school history books and education law texts. Last year, the book 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals Who Have Changed US History named Mary Beth Tinker along with such notable figures as Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Geronimo as among those who have most influenced the country’s policies.
The Tinker Tour kicked off on Constitution Day, Sept. 17 at the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It has been featured by numerous local and national media for giving youth across the country the opportunity to “see their history books come to life,” as journalism instructor Trevor Ivan from Kent State University said. The tour is also collecting stories of youth activism today. It is endorsed by a number of national civics education, civil rights and journalism groups.
Joining Mary Beth Tinker on the “Tinker Tour” is First Amendment attorney Mike Hiestand, who worked for the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) for more than 20 years. In addition to assisting students with general media law, the Student Press Law Center helps students deal with the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Hazelwood School District vs. Kulhmeier, which placed restrictions on students’ speech rights after the Tinker ruling.
Frank LoMonte, the SPLC’s Executive Director, has described Hazelwood as having a “devastating impact on student journalism.”
But the Hazelwood setback has not deterred the Tinker siblings and the SPLC from spreading their message of free speech, civic activism and the importance of youth advocating their First Amendment rights. In addition to their fall tour that includes the stop in Des Moines, the Tinker Tour will embark on a trip of west coast schools this spring.
For inquiries regarding the North High School event, contact journalism adviser Ben Graeber at firstname.lastname@example.org, 515-422-3311.
For inquiries regarding the Unitarian Church public event, contact Katie Allen, email@example.com, 525-402-2245.
Additional information about the Tinker Tour can be found at www.tinkertour.org. Direct all other inquiries to: Beverly Keneagy, 904-626-0017, firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, contact Mike Hiestand, email@example.com, 360-393-8916.