Vietnam War protesters visit Des Moines
DES MOINES (AP) — A brother and sister who were suspended 48 years ago for protesting the Vietnam War have returned to their former Des Moines schools to talk about their key roles in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, as well as the importance of youth civic engagement.
Mary Beth Tinker and John Tinker returned Tuesday to Des Moines’ Harding Middle and North High schools, The Des Moines Register reported. The visit was part of the Tinker Tour, a nationwide campaign aimed at letting students know their rights and ability to speak up for their beliefs.
“Young people are needed in our democracy,” said Mary Beth Tinker, 61. “They’re creative. They have great ideas. We need for them to engage in their communities and in their schools in order to make our country and our world a better place.”
Mary Beth Tinker and John Tinker were 13 and 15, respectively, when they wore black armbands in peaceful protest at their schools. Their subsequent suspensions led to the landmark 1969 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the teenagers had a right to wear the armbands. It also guaranteed all other students have the right to express their opinions at school.
“The Tinker case is in history books ... but it’s not just history, it’s the law today,” said Mike Hiestand, an attorney with the Virginia-based Student Press Law Center, a sponsor of the Tinker Tour. The Tinkers “are from the Midwest — they’re the politest rebels and radicals that you ever will meet — but their case really did change things.”
Mary Beth Tinker is now a pediatric nurse and labor union advocate who lives in Washington, D.C. John Tinker lives in Fayette, Mo., where he edits an online current events website.
But on Tuesday, the siblings focused on talking to students and taking their questions about social justice. At Harding, a locker and plaque were dedicated to Mary Beth Tinker. John Tinker, 63, posed for photos with students at North High.
The Tinkers are an example of young people’s ability to drive change, said Superintendent Thomas Ahartsaid.
“It was no easier for John and Mary Beth Tinker to do what they did than it is for you right now to take a principled stance for what you believe in,” he said to students at North High.