What a Black Armband Means, Forty Years Later

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

Just before Christmas in 1965, a group of students in Des Moines, Iowa wore black armbands to school to mourn the dead in Vietnam. I was 13 and in eighth grade. The nightly TV news, with scenes of flaming huts, screaming children, and soldiers in body bags had gotten to me. Along with a small group of high school students, including my brother John and our friend, Chris Eckhardt, and even my little brother and sister Paul and Hope, who were in elementary school, I decided to wear an armband that Christmas. Our message was peace.

We had no idea that our small action would lead us to the Supreme Court, or that the ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District 40 years ago today would become a landmark for students’ rights. But that is how history is made.

In 1965, the whole world seemed upside-down. Our teachers taught us not to fight, but adults were trying to solve their differences through war. In history class, we learned that everyone had equal rights, but working on a school project about lynching, I learned that blacks had been terrorized for years, even after the Emancipation Proclamation. And it was still going on. Walking with my friend Charles, kids would yell, “Hey, nigger lover!” because he was black and I was white. On the news, we saw children in Selma and Birmingham attacked with dogs and firehoses just for wanting good schools. My friends and I wanted to do more, and would join protestors at the capital, picketing for racial justice and singing freedom songs. There was hope, like now.

But by Christmas that year, about a thousand American soldiers had been killed in Vietnam and President Johnson had to decide whether to escalate the war or try to negotiate peace. A lot of people thought it was patriotic to support the war, but others thought we should try peace. One of them, Senator Robert Kennedy, proposed a Christmas truce. Some students in Des Moines decided to wear black armbands to support him, and wrote an article about it in their school newspaper. The principals saw the article and ruled that any students who tried to wear black armbands to school would be suspended.

After that, we weren’t sure what to do. We’d learned about the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment in school, and we felt free speech should apply to kids, too. We also had the examples of brave people standing up against dogs and firehoses to fight racism. In the end, we decided to go ahead and wear the armbands, and some of us were suspended.

That might have been the end of the story, if not for the American Civil Liberties Union. They provided a lawyer, Dan Johnston, who helped us win our case at the Supreme Court on February 24, 1969 by a vote of 7-2. It was a victory for all students because it protects student speech at schools to this day.

In 40 years, things have changed. But the desire of students to express themselves never will. Just last year, Heather Gillman won a case in federal court after her principal banned her from wearing a rainbow belt to show support for LGBT students at her school in Florida. Using the ruling from our case, Heather and the ACLU took her school to court and won. You can see a video here:

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Censorship still happens all the time to students. But I meet so many students who keep speaking up about all kinds of things they care about: their schools, the environment, peace, voting rights, racial discrimination, immigration and LGBT rights, and so many others. In many ways, the law is on the side of students who want to express themselves, but laws are not always clear, and they are always being interpreted and re-interpreted. Also, some administrators may not know the laws, or follow them. It takes students like Heather to keep the Constitution alive by using it.

As a gay teenager, I experienced discrimination myself. I’m grateful that the precedent established by the Supreme Court 40 years ago is still protecting students, including LGBT students and their friends. And I’m glad Heather was strong, and that she and her friends and stood up for themselves and the Bill of Rights.

I was scared the day I wore that armband to school, but I knew I had to speak up. The world seemed upside-down, but my friends and I had courageous role models to show us how to stand up for what we believed. If you look around, there are many others like that, whether in your home, your school, your neighborhood, your town or even across the world. You can join them to change the world, and when you do your life will be meaningful and very interesting. It certainly has been for me!

Mary Beth Tinker is a nurse in Washington, D.C., and was the lead plaintiff in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. In her spare time she travels all over the U.S. talking with students about their First Amendment rights and the importance of speaking out. You can watch the video about Heather Gillman and listen to an audio interview with Mary Beth Tinker here.

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John Whaley

Hi, Sending this because of a citation, Maryland vs. Whaley ($90.00). As two roads parallel & road construction stops one road, it is human nature to ease into the other roadway as no road barrels/cones would stop an occurance. My mom just paid a citation for a quick changing lite w/camera, as it changed after car went through intersection! Md. is charging for E-Z Pass boxes starting June. Double E-Z toll rates. Charging flush taxes. With prices soaring unbelievably and billions going here and there, there needs to be more rights for families making slightly over minimum wage and not able to support their family as they want! I mentioned we were in need of money that this was a problem, nothing was said or done! ! ! Nervous and this keeps others also from taking breaks or even getting breaks at work.

Vic Livingston

todaTO ALL ACLU BLOG READERS/STAFF:

My attempt to post a comment today on the free speech thread -- a comment that materially differed from past comments -- elicited the following full-screen message:

"Duplicate comment detected. It looks as though you've already said that!"

POINT OF INFORMATION, ACLU: Does your software generate such a message?

If so, how come that message came up when the post was NOT identical, but was my attempt to tell readers here that my comments to The Washington Post political blogs appear to be subject once again to prior restraint and/or censorship?

If you could provide an answer here, it would be appreciated; I believe this issue is relevant to other ACLU blog posters as well. Thank you.

Suzanne Ito, ACLU

Vic: Yes, our software does generate such a message. Our system does not allow the same comment to be posted to the same blog post by the same user more than once.

Jenny

I wrote a complaint about a teacher that wasn't true because I wanted to get her in trouble. She deserved it because she failed me for no reason. I said she called me a whore.

I heard this teacher is writing a book and is going to put my complaint in it. I thought everything I did in school was confidential. Can I sue her if she uses my complaint in a book?

D. J. Hard

Shreveport in Sink and Transparency in Government
By: John “DJ Hard” Hardy, March 1, 2009

As I was thinking over how long Albert Einstein took to discover the formula for the theories of special and general relativity, I explained to my X to prepare for the day I may need to speak to the mayor of Shreveport. First, I thought the most important speech I would make this year was during Black History Month, but I was wrong. The more opaque topic is what I can speak on is transparency in government. Perhaps, the words of transparency in government are a nation framework of doing business while being irrelevant in local government.

I might as well relax and enjoy the days without the worry of improving my community. It would be better to go back to school, have fun and take my money to Disney Land. That’s entertainment, and our local politics are showing signs of its infatuation with Corporate America and not individual like 50¢ who may have sold 10 million units. To my local government I say; if everybody in the state of Louisiana buys two copies of a CD, 50¢ would still make more sales.

If it is a class war on the rich, there is a class war on the poor. Why did Elvis leave? Poor people in my community normally do not have a spoke person because they can not afford this type of intellectual services for the entertainment industry. Perhaps, we should look back and see that Elvis was before the Civil Rights Movement, and 50¢ is a representative of the X & Y generation who are beneficiaries of our gains made for equal pay for equal work. These new generations of people may have heard or read about “The Struggle for the American Dream,” but my generation lived through it. Please, find a replacement for me because all this maybe volunteer work which doesn’t make money.

Chivalry is not dead. I’m trying to win the affection of my local community by going back to school to learn how to be a movie director of comedy and documentary films. I write songs like my song “What Is Kool.” I was inspired to write this song after going to Shreveport in Sink.

I thought what was “Kool” for was me to help my mother who is homeless buy a small old house, and hope I could get my grandmother who is 91 years old come to North Louisiana where is was born and raised. I entered a good faith agreement like a private party doing business with local government to make a simple purchase of my little grace land, but did not visualize this coming to a story of my love for Southern Living. Why did Elvis leave? Did he have the same problems I have by being different than the average person?

“Please, find anyone you like to replace me because without recognition and respect this work has no rewards.” Anybody can volunteer to research the Loan Forgiveness Program, disseminate the information and install a link between a local college and non-profit organizations in Shreveport. All of this would be done to help stimulate the local entertainment economy and attract and retain bright minded talent to help build small businesses. I heard that small businesses generates from 60 to 80% of new job growth in our nation.

Perhaps, the attractiveness of big business has city government looking over the heads of individuals. It would be nice if they would come down and visited Main Street again, and see that we have drop buckets were we are in hopes that we can focus on “The American Dream.” Can the City of Shreveport grow new stars in entertainment, or should we focus on the national market, and abort any notion of doing business in a risky and hazardous environment in local social, economic/political problems with a local translucent government?

I summarize by saying, if Einstein would have delayed his publications, where would America be today? We celebrate “Juneteenth” because news that every American was free came years late. If I repeated the market share of 50¢ that may have been 3.1% of US population in Louisiana, I would not have a gold record. Plus, the 1990 Census shows that the population of Louisiana increased only 0.8% from 1980 to 1990. I hope that the I-49 Project can be completed because it would help bring commerce here. However, will they stay?

http://www.youtube.com/dejayhard

Telugu Movie News

Hi could you tell me which software is used to give message "Duplicate comment detected".

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