Joyce Kent

Joyce Kent

Age 13 in 1963

Coming up in Birmingham in the early 1960s could mean growing up fast.

I was 13 years old in 1963, and a student at Homewood Junior High. I do remember the Sunday the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed. Innocent children were killed in God’s house, in a terrorist act.

Before this, I was going along with the crowd. My father told my mother, my sister and me not to go downtown that summer. Every nut in the United States was congregating down there. He was talking about the demonstrators, the Klu Klux Klan, and the crowd that loves to congregate around the action. I resented the news coverage. I thought the reporting was biased against the city. Why were the colored people making trouble?

On that Sunday, when I heard the news of the murders, I was shocked that anyone would be so evil as to bomb a church, God’s house, on a Sunday morning no less, and murder four children. I knew God was not on the side of the terrorists. That was the day it became embedded in my soul that God is never the author of hate.

Later, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. I was in Math class and we heard some boys gathering around the flagpole, cheering. My teacher, Mr. Sisco, opened the window and shouted at the boys to stop. I was one of the four girls that was excused from class so we could go to the restroom to cry. I remember the four, Donna Tate, Donna Braseale, Heidi Hanson, and me. I did not know until I read Diane McWhorter’s book, Carry Me Home, the price Heidi’s family paid for their stand on the events of 1963. At the time, all I knew was that she was one of the popular girls and I was a nobody. I admired her and resented her at the same time. It is funny how junior high students operate on two levels. Most of us suffered through angst and insecurity. We also were maturing into the people we would become.

I believe the events of 1963 were burned into our DNA. I have not been to see the statue Elizabeth “Bibba” MacQueen created to honor the lives lost on September 15, 1963, but I’ve seen portions of the work on TV. I will go, but when I do, I want to spend some time alone with those other four girls and remember.

In September 2013, Joyce Kent sent this story to Kids in Birmingham 1963, soon after the events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. It is published here with her permission.