Tinker Tour: The Power of an Armband September 16, 2013


Mary Beth Tinker (right), brother, and mother.

Our colleague Mary Beth Tinker is launching the Tinker Tour: The Power of an Armband to promote youth voices, free speech, and a free press. The tour kicks off on Constitution Day, Sept. 17, on Independence Mall in Philadelphia. She will continue to visit schools, universities, and conferences across the country, including the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference. Check the itinerary for a location near you. Read more at tinkertourusa.org.

We will share updates from the tour in the months ahead.

Tinker vs. DesMoines Case

Description is from the ACLU.

Mary Beth Tinker was a 13-year-old junior high school student in December 1965 when she and a group of students decided to wear black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam. The school board got wind of the protest and passed a preemptive ban. When Mary Beth arrived at school on December 16, she was asked to remove the armband. When she refused, she was sent home.

Mary Beth Tinker (with Kevin Zeese) reading at the dedication of the Zinn Room in Hyattsville, Maryland, September, 2011. Photo by Jack Gordon.

Mary Beth Tinker (with Kevin Zeese) reading at the dedication of the Zinn Room in Hyattsville, Maryland, September, 2011. Photo by Jack Gordon.

Four other students were suspended, including her brother John Tinker and Chris Eckhardt. The students were told they could not return to school until they agreed to remove their armbands. The students returned to school after the Christmas break without armbands, but in protest wore black clothing for the remainder of the school year.

Represented by the ACLU, the students and their families embarked on a four-year court battle that culminated in the landmark Supreme Court decision: Tinker v. Des Moines. On February 24, 1969 the Court ruled 7-2 that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The Court ruled that the First Amendment applied to public schools, and school officials could not censor student speech unless it disrupted the educational process. Because wearing a black armband was not disruptive, the Court held that the First Amendment protected the right of students to wear one.

SNCC_1vote-300x266Note from the Zinn Education Project: Tinker v. Des Moines is famous and featured in most U.S. history textbooks. Less known is that it is based on a Mississippi court case (Burnside v. Byars) that is not in the textbooks, even though the Mississippi case set the precedent.

Here is a description of the Burnside case from the First Amendment Center:

A group of public school students at an all-black school in Philadelphia, Mississippi wore “freedom buttons” to school to protest racial segregation in the state. The school principal ordered the students to remove the buttons. The principal believed that the buttons would “cause commotion” and “disturb the school program.” When several students continued to wear the buttons, the principal suspended them for a week. Continue reading.

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