Mary Beth Tinker Describes the Need to Understand First Amendment Rights

Mary Beth Tinker describes how she continues to see the need for young people to understand and practice their First Amendment rights.

Mary Beth Tinker was a 13-year-old junior high school student in December 1965 when she, her brother John, 15, and their friend Christopher Eckhardt, 16, wore black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam. That decision led the students and their families to embark on a four-year court battle that culminated in the landmark 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision for student free speech: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.
This interview was recorded on February 21, 2019 at Iowa PBS studios in Johnston, Iowa.


After the Tinker ruling, I grew up and I became a nurse.

I started working with children and teenagers mostly.

I became a trauma nurse. I started in the emergency rooms.

I started to see the conditions of young people, the status of young people. I would be taking care of kids who had been shot. Kids who have asthma because of the pollution of their neighborhoods. Kids who didn't have housing that was adequate, who were homeless and living on the streets.

I started to see our case in the context of children's conditions, and how kids need to have free speech rights to improve their own conditions as people have all through our history.

They've used the First Amendment to speak up about their lives.

I started speaking more and more with kids, and telling them the story of our Tinker experience, and encouraging them to speak up about the issues of their lives as well.

Certainly one of those has to do with war and has to do with the resources that we spend on military and guns and fighting and killing, instead of the well-being of young people.

© 2019 Iowa PBS


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