Mary Beth Tinker’s life changed forever in 1965. At the age of 13, she received national attention as a plaintiff in the historic Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines.
More recently, Tinker and former Student Press Law Center lawyer Mike Hiestand have traveled coast to coast to advocate for students’ First Amendment rights. They have spoken at nearly 100 schools, colleges, churches, courts, conventions and correctional facilities. But for the tour’s last stop on May 1, they chose Mountlake Terrace High School.
Tinker and Hiestand arrived at MTHS before third period on Thursday, crossing the “finish line” at the entrance to MTHS. Then, several hundred MTHS students poured into the theater to listen to Tinker’s story.
In 1965, Tinker and her brother and friend had decided to wear black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War, and to express their sadness about the war. When school officials suspended Tinker for wearing the armband, the ACLU helped her sue her school district.
The case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was decided in her favor. The major opinion written in the case said that students and teachers do not “shed their First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate.”
Since then, the Tinker v. Des Moines case has served as the benchmark for students’ rights at public schools.
Tinker’s message along the tour has focused on the power of young people to make change in the world. Tinker highlighted Claudette Colvin, who was a 15-year-old African-American girl in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat for a white person. Colvin was removed from the bus, beaten and thrown in jail. This was nine months before Rosa Parks did the same.
Her message to young people today: take action and speak up for what you believe in.
Tinker later opened the floor to a question and answer period, where students could tweet questions using the hashtag “#TerraceTinkerTour”.
When students asked Tinker of her opinion on issues, Tinker threw the questions back at them and asked students what issues they were passionate about. She then asked students what actions students could take for the issues they were passionate about, rather than just discussing them.
Tinker and Hiestand delivered a second presentation, open to students from all around the region. History, journalism, English and other students came from schools such as Ballard, Lynnwood, Lake Stevens, Snohomish, Auburn Mountainview, and even Granger High School near Yakima.
It’s the last stop for Tinker Tour USA. Concluding a 10-week long West Coast tour, both Tinker and Hiestand will return home for some much needed rest. Tinker lives in Washington, D.C., where she works as a pediatric trauma care nurse.
The two praised MTHS for its support of students’ First Amendment rights at school. In April, MTHS was one of six schools in the nation awarded the First Amendment Press Freedom award, in recognition of its thriving student media organizations.
The event was sponsored by the ACLU of Washington, Washington Journalism Education Association, Student Press Law Center and others, and was produced by the Hawkeye staff.
By Nick Fiorillo/Editor-in-Chief/MTHS Hawkeye