Mary Beth Tinker and her brother, John, protested the Vietnam war by wearing black armbands to school.
As a junior high school student, she led a fight for free speech to protest the Vietnam War. As an adult, she tours the country explaining what that fight means today.
Mary Beth Tinker, one of the plaintiffs in the precedential lawsuit Tinker v. Des Moines, will visit Ohio University to speak to classes and the community about the lawsuit that established free-speech rights for students in schools.
“Rights are like muscles. If we don’t use them, we could lose them,” Tinker said. “Many people are saying that the youth vote will be critical in November. No wonder — youth will be so affected by upcoming decisions, whether it’s tuition prices, employment, the environment, war or so much more.”
Tinker was 13 years old in 1965 when she and her brother wore black armbands to their schools in Des Moines, Iowa, protesting the government’s actions in Vietnam. School officials suspended the Tinkers, saying the armbands disrupted school activities.
The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court where Justice Abe Fortas wrote in the majority opinion the words to which free-speech advocates have since clung, “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
Mary Beth Tinker launched the Tinker Tour last fall.
Tinker said, “I’m from the Midwest — Missouri and Iowa — where we have a strong appreciation for rights and the idea that we need to use them if we want equality and democracy.”
“Having Mary Beth Tinker speak to our students about First Amendment issues is invaluable,” said E.W. Scripps School of Journalism director Robert Stewart. “They won’t think about the First Amendment the same way after hearing about her experience firsthand.”
“It’s a rare experience for people to meet in person someone they have studied in the history books,” added Nerissa Young, adviser to the Ohio University campus chapter of Society of Professional Journalists. “Since the Tinker Tour launched a year ago, I was hopeful we could bring her to campus.”
Tinker will discuss her experiences in a free, public presentation Sept. 25 in the Baker Center Theater at 5 p.m. She is expected to answer questions about two free-speech Ohio University controversies: the blood-bucket anti-Israel challenge of OU Student Senate President Megan Marzec and the federal lawsuit against the university filed by Isaac Smith regarding a campus group’s T-shirt at the 2013 Campus Involvement Fair.
“The First Amendment and controversy go hand in hand,” Tinker said. “What are our rights? What are the limits? I can’t wait to discuss current issues of student expression with OU students, whether it’s T-shirts and ‘bucket’ campaigns but other issues as well.”
Tinker, a pediatric nurse, began a national tour in fall 2013 to high schools, college campuses, church groups and others to educate and empower young people about their rights and responsibilities to speak up. The tour is a project of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C.
Her visit is sponsored by the Ohio University chapter of Society of Professional Journalists and the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Athens activist Arlene Sheak, a friend of Tinker’s, helped arrange the visit.
UPDATE at 9/26/14: To watch Tinker’s presentation at OU, visit: http://www.ohio.edu/media/?videoid=F5B10AF95056A81E8DF6B78F5CB9BA7B
Note: Special thanks to Nerissa Young, lecturer in journalism at OU and adviser to its SPJ chapter, for providing info for this posting.