John and Mary Beth Tinker Describe Decision to Sue the Des Moines Independent School District

John and Mary Beth Tinker describe their decision in 1965 to work with the ACLU and sue the Des Moines Independent School District for the infringement of 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.



John: But it was not a hard decision to come to. We were out of school. We obviously couldn't remain out of school forever. It seemed generally that It was a good solution. That we would go back without the armbands and sue the school system.

Mary Beth: Well the Iowa ACLU said that we should first negotiate with the school board. That is their policy, always try to negotiate if you have a disagreement about your rights or anything else.

I always tell students that today. If you have a disagreement try to negotiate first of course and work it out.

We went to the school board. There was a big meeting and some of the school board did vote for our right to wear the armbands but they lost the vote.

It was after those efforts to try to negotiate with the schools that the ACLU said well we're going to have to take this over to the other branch of government, the judicial branch, and that's how it got to court.

© 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?