Mary Beth Tinker Describes Influential Court Cases for First Amendment Rights

Mary Beth Tinker describes the prior civil rights legal cases that influenced the decision in their Supreme Court case for 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.


The Supreme Court ruling that established the Tinker standard said that students have free speech rights, in the public schools. Except they cannot substantially disrupt school or impinge on the rights of others.

The substantial disruption part of it that they cited comes directly from Mississippi Freedom Summer from the Civil Rights Movement, when students protested the murder of Chaney, Schwerner andGoodman by the Ku Klux Klan.

There's a case called Burnside vs. Byers where they won their case to wear buttons that said one-man one-vote, SNIC - Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. That is the Tinker standard today, but it comes directly from the Civil Rights Movement of 1964 in Mississippi.

© 2019 Iowa PBS


What is your Iowa pathway? Start your investigation by selecting a topic from the list above.

Media Artifacts

Navigation Tip:
Before digging in, check out how the page is organized. What are the main navigation buttons? What stays the same on every page?