50th Anniversary of Tinker v. Des Moines

Feb 26, 2019

It's been 50 years since the landmark Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, which guaranteed First Amendment rights for public school students. 

The students whose protest of the Vietnam War sparked the legal battle that birthed this legal precedent, Mary Beth and John Tinker, are spending the anniversary in Iowa speaking to students and community members with the goal of amplifying the voices of young activists. 

On this Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with the Tinkers about their protest and the court case that came of it, as well as getting their thoughts on the current activism by students across the country.

After their suspension for wearing the black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, the Tinkers saw support from some but also some backlash from others. Their house was vandalized and they received threatening letters and phone calls.

"It was really suprising for us, especially as kids, although we had the example of the Civil Rights movement," says Mary Beth. "We knew what kind of violence they had faced and endured, and some of them had even been killed. So compared to that, the harassment we got really wasn't too significant."

Today the Tinkers are passionate about the free expression of students.

"Besides free speech, students need free press," says John.

When on the road doing speaking engagements around the country they say it's exciting to see student activism and the issues young people are interested in, from gun violence to criminal justice.

The Tinkers will speak in Iowa City at the Old Capitol February 26 at 7:30 pm, and in Des Moines at Drake University's Cowles Library on February 27 at 7:00 pm.