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. Our families were very close, with her dad being our milkman and family photographer and her mom being my 3rd grade teacher that September.

We were also close to the Wesley family because my aunt taught at Lewis Elementary where Cynthia’s dad was the principal. Cynthia also died in the bombing. Denise and Cynthia both took piano lessons from my aunt Nadean Williams. My aunt is also in the Spike Lee documentary about the bombing, “4 Little Girls.”

The day of the bombing, we didn’t attend church. When it went off I was in my front yard playing with my football. The bombs were not abnormal. Matter of fact, they were pretty common. But this bomb was strong. It shook my house even though we lived on the other side of town.

Not long after we heard the bomb, we learned that Denise and Cynthia had been killed. On that day, my childhood came to an end. The next day we went to school as usual. The only difference: my teacher wasn’t there. I had not only lost my friend but I also lost my teacher because she never came back to school that year. I remember being at the funeral which was held at our church, Sixth Avenue Baptist. I remember the throngs of people and how it seems the world was there. The next month I turned 9. Most of the country would remember November 22nd as the day of innocence lost.* For me, it will always be September 15th.


* November 22, 1963, is the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.


Charles Cecil Guyton wrote this story expressly for Kids in Birmingham 1963, where it is published with his permission in May 2019.