The Book The Book Order

Major Players

ARNETTA STREETER

In the fourth grade, Arnetta attended Washington Elementary, an all-black public school. The classes were crowded, and the classrooms were poorly equipped. Every day, Arnetta made the long walk to school, passing by the white elementary school that was closer to her home.

When Arnetta was eleven, her father asked her and her sister Joan, along with a small number of other black children, to try to integrate a white school. The girls didn’t feel ready for that, and their mother took their side. Their father relented.

In tenth grade, Arnetta and seven friends started the Peace Ponies, a social and savings club. Inspired by the sermons of Martin Luther King Jr. and other ministers, the girls decided to attend nonviolence workshops. There they received detailed instructions about how to participate in peaceful demonstrations.

On April 13, 1963, Arnetta and the Peace Ponies took part in their first protest. With a group of college students and preachers, they walked to city hall, where they knelt on the steps and prayed. They were not arrested.

The next week, the Peace Ponies took part in another demonstration. Before they had walked a block, they were arrested. They were held in a room at the jail that had no beds and nowhere to sit. Two days later, Arnetta and the other Peace Ponies were bailed out of jail by a civil rights organizer, who had put up his house as collateral.

On D-Day, Arnetta left school with a large group of students and went to Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to join the other protesters. As they all marched out of the church, she cried, but not from fear. “When I looked up and saw all of the people…the idea of what was about to take place…It was just overwhelming.” She didn’t get arrested that day.

On Double D-Day, firemen with trucks and hoses joined the policemen stationed opposite the church. Arnetta knew from her nonviolence training what that meant: the authorities were threatening to blast them with high-powered water hoses.

For nearly an hour, the march proceeded according to plan. Then several firemen pointed a massive hose at the protestors. The surge of water shocked most of them into retreating, though several faced the hoses. Doubling their efforts, the firemen fixed their sights on the group marching up Eighteenth Street, led by Arnetta and another Peace Pony. The volunteers had learned how to protect themselves from the hoses, but “the little bit of training that we had did no good,” Arnetta said. “[We were] hugging together, and the water just washed the two of us down the street. The water was piercing.”

Arnetta’s parents took her home, sopping wet and bruised. She put on dry clothes, then told them she wanted to return. Her worried parents drove her back to the church. At the end of the day, she was sent home, unarrested.

On July 23, the Birmingham city council repealed the Segregation Ordinances. Arnetta and her sister Joan helped test the repeal by sitting in the white section at the Alabama Theatre and by going to movies and eating at restaurants where blacks had not previously been admitted.

***

After college, Arnetta then earned a master’s degree in elementary education and taught mathematics in Birmingham for thirty-two years. Now retired from teaching, Arnetta facilitates an after-school program at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Looking back, she says, “We had no idea the change that was going to come about. It was God’s time to make a change.”

Audrey Faye Hendricks | Washington Booker III | Arnetta Streeter | James Stewart