Hatred eliminated the only “sanctuary” in my life

Amos Charles Townsend

Amos Charles Townsend

Age 11 in 1963

Amos Charles Townsend was 11 when, 10 or 12 blocks away in his own church, he felt the effects of the church bombing.

As a child in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, I was witness to the turmoil in the community around the Civil Rights Movement. We had, of necessity, become more aware of hatred based on race way beyond the recognition of the grinding heel of racism we had faced all our lives. The expression of racism that kept us from being able to go to enjoy the rides of Fair Park at the State Fairgrounds in Birmingham or try on clothes at a department store or kept us drinking from a separate water fountain or attending segregated schools was something we knew. We knew the fear of seeing Bull Connor riding around in that white tank ordering us off the streets after the times they bombed Attorney Arthur Shores’ home on Center Street. We had felt the blasts in our homes during the night.

But nothing prepared me, or us as children, to feel the utter terror that came that fateful Sunday morning when our friends were killed and others injured at the 16th Street Baptist Church. As we completed Sunday School at Saint Joseph Baptist Church, we were startled as we felt the effects of the bombing at 16th Street, as our church was 10-12 blocks away. As the news spread of what had happened and the deaths of our friends, it brought a whole new but strange reality to me. My childhood innocence was forever erased as I came to understand that hatred had eliminated the only “sanctuary” in my life, which was the safety and reassurance of the church.

This never stopped me from going to church and believing in the love of God. It did however teach me that racial hatred was mean and irrational. Our lives were further shaken when President Kennedy was assassinated. These experiences did not snuff out my resolve. They served to make me more determined to succeed against all the odds…

In September 2013, Amos Charles Townsend wrote his story for Kids in Birmingham 1963. It is shared here with his permission.