John Tinker Describes His Rationale for Wearing Armbands to Protest the Vietnam War

Although the historic Supreme Court decision that bears their name is a First Amendment issue, John Tinker explains their cause was really to raise awareness of the war in Vietnam.

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.


Well the armbands were were a tool. They were a symbol that we were using. But the right to wear the armband was not really our goal, in a sense.

We wanted to wear the armband in order to raise awareness about the war in Vietnam. When it went to court it got publicity for that, and it did increase the awareness of the war.

Actually when Martin Luther King was assassinated, several of us at least in North wore white armbands and there was no problem from that.

The the ban actually specifically said no wearing of black armbands. I mean, to have the right to wear the black armband was not really the most pressing issue. The most pressing issue was to raise awareness about the war and to protest the war.

I mean when we lost our first case, we went back to school the next year.

Actually, I tried wearing black clothes again; but it's just too much effort to maintain that wardrobe, and so I decided to not do that anymore.

© 2019 Iowa PBS


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