Mary Beth Tinker to young journalists:
Speak up on behalf of others


Mary Beth Tinker shared her story with hundreds of high school journalism students visiting the nation’s capital on Nov. 22 — encouraging them to be caring, and to use their free speech rights to talk about important issues.

The daughter of a minister, Tinker recalled being a 13-year-old in Iowa, inspired by civil rights activists and opposition to the Vietnam War. Mary Beth, her brother John, fellow student Chris Eckhardt, and a few others wore black armbands to school, in a non-disruptive protest of the war. 

They were suspended on Dec. 16, 1965. A lawsuit on their behalf made its way to the Supreme Court.

In the landmark 1969 decision, Justice Abe Fortas wrote for the 7-2 majority that "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." 

Five decades later, Tinker remains resolute, encouraging student journalists to cover tough issues and advocate for their peers at schools without journalism programs. She noted that schools in economically disadvantaged and diverse communities are less likely to offer student media programs.

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The day before this speech, the Student Press Law Center brought more than 80 students on a tour of the Supreme Court (something we did with 50 college journalists in October). SPLC's Senior Legal Counsel, Mike Hiestand, is licensed to practice before the high court.

The next leg of the teaching session took place at the Newseum, where Tinker surprised the high school students. 

They posed for photos in front of her armband on display, which is still glued to a homework assignment Tinker completed after the black armband incident.

The assignment:  “What did you do over Christmas break?”

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S/O to these high school journalists who brought a camera and mic without knowing Tinker would be there and were able to get an interview with her because of it. We love seeing enterprising young journalists who come prepared. You never know when you'll get a scoop!

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