By MATT NELSON
October 24, 2010
Forty-five years have passed since Mary Beth Tinker was suspended
from Harding Junior High for wearing a black armband to class to
protest the Vietnam War.
That act of youthful civil disobedience resulted in a lawsuit -
Tinker vs. Des Moines - that made her famous and defined the
constitutional rights of public school students in Iowa and across
the United States. And now it has inspired a stage musical,
"Thursday's Children," which had its world premiere Saturday night at
the Iowa Public Theatre in the Iowa State Historical Museum.
Among those attending was Tinker, now in her late 50s. Just before
Saturday's debut performance, she took part in a panel discussion on
the four-year legal battle and its significance.
"I was such an ordinary person, and so were my brothers and sisters
and all of us really were," said Tinker, who has spoken often about
the case to student groups over the years. "My message to students is
that ordinary people make history, and it's the small things you do
that make a difference."
Lisa Norris-Lynner, co-author of "Thursday's Children," said the
discussion helped put the production into historical context.
"I think it's a very interesting bunch they've put together,"
Norris-Lynner said. "I think it's wonderful Mary Beth Tinker could come back."
The panel included Dan Johnston, Tinker's lawyer.
"The schools really tried to protect kids from controversy," Johnston
said. "They weren't being political about it. They just didn't want
it to be controversial."
"I'm not very pro the anti-war movement," Hoefling said. "If it's
anti-war, OK, but it can't be anti-soldier. Trust me, it was back then."
While Johnston, the Tinker case's lawyer, said he understood the
position of the school board, he never understood the defense that
"Their argument simply was that the school made the rule, the school
had the authority to make the rules, the students had to obey them,
and that was it," Johnston said. "They didn't try to put on any
justification for the administrators."
The Tinker case has impacted schools nationwide. Sebring said that
administrators are now required to study the Tinker case in detail.
"I think we have a broader body of law now to support and help school
administrators make good decisions," Sebring said. "(It helps) keep
minority views present in classrooms and hallways without creating an
environment that is unsafe or disrespectful."