This Day in History

Dec. 16, 1965: Students Suspended for Anti-War Armbands

Time Periods: People’s Movement: 1961 - 1974
Themes: Democracy & Citizenship, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements

On Dec. 16, 1965, a group of students — including organizer Bruce Clark (17 years old), Christopher Eckhardt (16 years old), John F. Tinker (15 years old), Mary Beth Tinker (13 years old), Hope Tinker (11 years old), Paul Tinker (8 years old) — wore black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam. The school board got wind of the protest and passed a preemptive ban. When the students arrived at school on December 16, they were asked to remove the armbands. When the students refused, they were sent home.

The students were suspended and told they could not return to school until they agreed to remove their armbands.

Mary Beth and John Tinker display the black armbands that led them to being suspended from school.

Represented by the ACLU, five of the students and their families embarked on a four-year court battle that culminated in the landmark Supreme Court decision: Tinker v. Des Moines. On February 24, 1969, the Court ruled 7-2 that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The Court ruled that the First Amendment applied to public schools, and school officials could not censor student speech unless it disrupted the educational process. Because wearing a black armband was not disruptive, the Court held that the First Amendment protected the right of students to wear one. [Adapted from a post by the ACLU.]

Read an article by Mary Beth Tinker about the case, including the connection to Burnside v. Byars, a Mississippi case that set the precedent for Tinker v. Des Moines.