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Tinker

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Mary Beth Tinker, who was suspended from her high school for wearing a Vietnam War protest armband and won when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor in Tinker v. DeMoines, in 1969, visited with LSU students. (Credit: Andrea Gallo) Mary Beth Tinker, who was suspended from her high school for wearing a Vietnam War protest armband and won when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor in Tinker v. DeMoines, in 1969, visited with LSU students. (Credit: Andrea Gallo)

By Andrea Gallo | LSU Student

The woman known for winning a First Amendment Supreme Court case when she was 13 years old underscored to LSU students Monday that young people are perfectly molded to stand up for their rights and take action.

The Supreme Court ruled in Mary Beth Tinker's favor in 1969 after she and others were suspended from school for wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. The case, Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District, has become one of the most cited First Amendment cases in the nation.

"If you see something unfair going on, you have two choices," Tinker said. "You can do nothing, but that's so boring! But you would be safe. Or you could do something."

Her stop at LSU was part of the Tinker Tour, in which Tinker and attorney Mike Hiestand are traveling nationwide in a colorful bus. Their goal is raise young peoples' awareness about the importance of standing up for what they believe in and civics education.

When she sued her school, Tinker wasn't a hero, at least in her eyes. The people who were protesting segregation and the Vietnam conflict and being attacked by dogs and sprayed by hoses had it much worse than her, she thought. Her parents were two of the people who inspired her most.

"They believed in putting your ideals into actions," she said. Tinker's father was a preacher and one of the beliefs he preached was, "We shouldn't just wait for heaven -- start now."

At first, Tinker said she faced a lot of backlash. School board members told her she was too young to understand the issue. But people who are once despised often end up as heroes, she said. Tinker will soon return to the school from which she was suspended where officials will dedicate her old locker to her.

Despite her successful lawsuit, Tinker encouraged students to negotiate issues without hiring a lawyer and going to court. She said problems often can be more easily resolved when people speak out instead of going through a court process.

Many students described problems they faced in school that prevented them from taking as strong a stand as Tinker did. Some said they didn't know what the laws were, and others said students in the South are taught to always defer to their elders.

"It's not that you don't want to go against the status quo because you don't want to make a difference," said Amber Mason, mass communication junior. "You don't want to get in trouble."

The push for students advocating for themselves needs to be stressed in schools, students said. Tinker said when she sued her school district, many people said she didn't know what she was talking about.

"But kids know things that adults don't," she said. "Kids are fresher. Kids are able to think about things with new eyes."

Tinker scribbled into a pocket-sized notebook as students discussed their problems and ideas. She and Hiestand pushed for them to think about how advocating for causes works in society today, especially with social media platforms like Facebook.

"You like a page on Facebook and that could be putting an armband on," said Samantha Clement, mass communication senior.

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