We were kids in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. That tumultuous year transformed the nation and shaped our lives. These are our stories.

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NBC Nightly News brings story of reconciliation, reporting on Kids in Birmingham 1963 retreat

“Coming Together.” What better day than Thanksgiving for a national news story on the Kids in Birmingham 1963 event.

 

In September, 25 of us “Kids,” the children of segregated Birmingham, came together to connect with each other and to welcome the city’s rising generations to join us. NBC national correspondent Rehema Ellis interviewed Kids for this NBC Nightly News story, broadcast on Thanksgiving Day. Read more…

Were my parents correct in shielding us from the turmoil?

Constance D. Lawrence Hurst

Constance D. Lawrence Hurst

Age 8 in 1963

Connie was just 8 when she heard the bomb blast at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church from only a block away. She recalls growing up in a family whose attitudes about race shifted over time.


Our family attended Birmingham’s First Methodist Church in 1963. The Children’s building was under construction, and all the school age children were attending Sunday School in the Alabama Power building just a block away from the 16th Street Baptist church.

I remember hearing the bomb explode on September 15, 1963. All of our parents were a block away in the main sanctuary building and I remember them running into our Sunday School room in panic because they didn’t know where the bomb was.

Read more…

My twin sister and I hoped our small efforts made a difference

Myra E. Horn

Myra E. Horn

Age 14 in 1963

She may have grown up in Mountain Brook, an all-white suburb of Birmingham, but Myra Horn stood out from her peers as she reached out warmly to the first black student to enter her homeroom at Shades Valley High School. They remain fast friends today.


My family moved to Birmingham 4/15/62 because our father was sent there by the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway Christian) in Nashville, TN to build a new Baptist Book Store, which he did. My identical twin sis, Leah, and I were 12 years old in April (turned 13 that May) and were enrolled in Mountain Brook Junior High. Our parents had always bought the best house they could afford just within the best school district, and Mountain Brook was it when we moved there. Two horrific dates from 1963 that will forever be etched in our memories were the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the assassination of President Kennedy. Leah and I turned 14 years old in May, 1963.

We were at church at the all-white First Baptist Church close to the black church and our building shook and glass broke out of some windows when the blast went off. Read more…

On that day, my childhood came to an end

Charles Cecil Guyton

Charles Cecil Guyton

Age 9 in 1963

The day the church was bombed, Cecil lost two friends—one of them the daughter of his third grade teacher, who did not return to school that year.


I was born in Birmingham in 1954. My family lived in the Titusville neighborhood and I attended Center Street Elementary. My family were members of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. My family was also very involved in the Civil Rights Movement. My uncle, Bernard H. Williams, had attended Morehouse College with Dr. King and they were Frat Brothers. My mother and grandmother were very close friends of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a Birmingham pastor who had taken many brave actions to push for changes in the Jim Crow laws. Many of the people in this group were and still are very close friends.

I remember 1963 vividly, mainly because of how violent it was, but also because of the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church. Denise McNair, one of the girls who was killed, was one of my playmates, and we attended the same school at the time. Read more…

I saw people just like me

Linda C. Thacker

Linda C. Thacker

Age 16 in 1963

From her classroom, Linda watched a silent march that changed her.


In 1963 I had never thought about why my school was attended by whites only. The only black person I knew was Spicy, the woman who came to our home one day a week to iron.

Then, one Spring day when I was a Junior at Woodlawn High School, every class received an announcement that there would be a march of black students, and that these students would pass in front of our school. We were instructed to remain inside. We were instructed to be quiet.

My teacher was wise enough to know we would not be able to stay in our seats, so we were allowed to go to the window when the black students passed by like a parade. There was no sound, no shouting, no raised hands. Just silence. I watched a group of about 50 male and female students, just like me except for the color of their skin, walk in unison. I knew from other events at that time that they wanted an equal education, an equal opportunity to succeed. That touched my heart.

That day—that silent march of teenagers—changed me. I saw people with hopes and dreams and desires—just like me.

My childhood showed me the best and the worst of human relations

Adrienne O'Neal

Adrienne O'Neal

Age 9 in 1963

Adrienne O’Neal reflects that it was “just short of a miracle” that no members of her family were at 16th Street Baptist Church the day it was bombed. She says, “The church bombing was like the point of no return to the resolve for change and determination for a better life in the community.”


In 1963, my family and I lived on the North side of Birmingham, on the infamous “Dynamite Hill.” My father was Executive Vice President and Manager of Citizen’s Federal Savings and Loan Association, the city’s sole black owned financial institution. My mother was a teacher and administrator at Miles College, the local Historically Black College (HBCU). My parents shielded my sister and me from the civil rights struggle as long as they could. For example, when a bomb went off in the night, my mother would say, “That was a truck backfiring. Go back to sleep.” And when we would drink from water fountains labeled, “White,” while shopping downtown, she would pretend not to notice, and call us quietly to her side. Ours was a happy childhood, despite the tension, violence and turmoil brewing around us.

Education was extremely important in our household. My father had earned a Bachelor’s Degree and a Law Degree at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) through the GI Bill. He and my mother met at NCCU in the late 1940s and were married after they both graduated. In 1963, my mother had an opportunity to pursue a Master’s Degree at the University of Indiana on scholarship. My parents decided she would go to Bloomington on her own for a year with my sister and me in tow to complete the course work. We left my father in Birmingham and moved to Indiana late summer, 1963. Read more…