By Alexis McClain – November 3, 2017
Mary Beth Tinker, of the 1969 Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines, spoke to The Enterprise staff and Barbara Doughty’s first-period American history class on Oct. 4 in an online video chat.
Students were able to virtually see Tinker and ask her questions about her opinions, experiences and views on past and present-day issues.
In 1965, Mary Beth Tinker, along with four other students, wore black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War. Because the school district had banned the wearing of armbands, Tinker was suspended. This First Amendment case went to the Supreme Court, and they ruled that public schools and their teachers or faculty could only censor a student’s speech if it caused a material and substantial disruption to the operation of the school.
“It was very inspiring because she was telling us about all her stories about the armband, and I felt that was very inspiring because she was at such a young age and able to do something with so much courage,” junior Demetrius Thompson said.
Tinker told the students about how she feels about her own freedoms as well as the responsibility of schools to encourage students to use their rights, and her views on the controversy about football players who have been kneeling during the national anthem.
“It’s not up to someone else to tell me how to express my patriotism or my feelings,” Tinker said. “And so the students that are kneeling to bring light to the issue of racism and racial discrimination, I don’t understand why someone would want to censor that because, you know, teachers and principals I talk to all over the country are trying to encourage students to be civically active and to speak up about the issues of today and have a voice.”
The Caddo Parish School Board released a statement that said that the students and the staff are allowed to practice their First Amendment rights, though Bossier Parish has recently been threatening to take action and punish those students who refuse to stand during the national anthem.
Tinker also talked about current events occurring in the country.
“We’re dealing with enormous racial injustice and inequality in our country,” Tinker said. “We can’t just sweep that under the rug. We have to deal with it, and it’s way past time.”
One of the students who was able to ask Tinker a question said that even with all the conflict going on in the world, Tinker reminded him that he has a voice.
“Now there’s a lot of problems in the world and a lot of conflict that we see, and everyone has their own opinion,” Demetrius Thompson said. “I feel like I have opinions but no one wants to hear them, so knowing that she said that I can express my opinions, I feel like I should do it more in school.”
Tinker also said that it is up to everyone to speak out against inequality, not just those who are directly affected by it, and for everyone to remember to be respectful.
“We need to talk and treat people with respect,” Tinker said. “We need to make a better constitution and country.”
Tinker said that respect is very important and that she shares her beliefs on the issue of those kneeling for the national anthem.
“It’s not disrespect to our country,” Tinker said. “But it’s respect for making a better country and for using our constitutional rights.”
She also talked about how it is saddening that students are still being censored and student rights are being debated, even years after her case. One of the teachers able to participate in talking with Tinker said she thought it made her students see things in a new light.
“I think it made them more aware of how a single person can change things, and she really got through to them that they’ve got to do more than just give lip service to things,” Doughty said. “It’s sometimes scary and sometimes you really don’t realize the kind of impact you’re going to have down the road.”
After the case in 1969, Tinker said she had to endure a lot of hate, and one person even called her over the phone and threatened to kill her. However, she said she does not regret using her First Amendment rights.
“I never regret what I did,” Tinker said. “It’s actually been a great gift.”
Tinker said that students should speak up and stand up for their rights.
“When you join with others to speak up and make something better, the good news is that it’s a great way of life, it’s interesting and meaningful,” Tinker said.
She talked about how rewarding it is for her to be able to hear about students and young kids who are speaking up about their rights in their own communities. She advised the students that they won’t always win, and she personally believes that most of what she does speak out against she ends up losing.
Both classes really seemed to enjoy their opportunity to speak with her.
“It was really great. I was so impressed with her,” Doughty said. “She was really so warm and open, and the kids were mesmerized. It was just so interesting, and I think that she was just so interested in us.”
More information about Tinker’s life and journey can be found at http://tinkertourusa.org/about/tinkerbio/.