Greenwood Residents Remember Deadly 1968 Tornado

GREENWOOD (KFSM) -- Forty-nine years after a deadly tornado ripped through Greenwood, killing 13 people and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses, residents and city leaders are remembering the lives lost that day.

"The window went out just as we got back," Fred Kinslow, tornado survivor said. "I mean, glass was flying everywhere."

Fred Kinslow and his family were going about their normal day on April 19, 1968, when the tornado struck their town in a matter of minutes.

"It's just like somebody had a hold of me," Fred said. "I know who it was up above. He had me where he wanted me."

Fred was working in his barbershop in the Greenwood Square that day when he decided to go next door for coffee, not knowing that second brew would save his life.

"So, I got up to leave and pay for my coffee," Fred said. "[the shop owner] said, 'No, Fred, don't leave. Sit down here and have another cup.' His name was Earl Peoples. I said, 'Okay, I'll have another cup.'"

The tornado struck minutes later, Fred's son Doug was blocks away walking home from school.

"The wind was blowing so hard, if I don't grab something I'm gonna blow away," Doug said. "I went and grabbed that holly bush and I don't remember feeling any pain."

Doug, who was 10 at the time, would also find his home nearly leveled.

"I remember turning the corner and looking toward our house," Doug said. "I yelled back at [my dad] and said, 'Where is our house?'

Jokingly, the family said that day would give them an idea of what the future would hold for the Kinslow family and the city of Greenwood.

"Our family car was out here on the square because my dad's barber shop was here," Doug said. "That car landed on top of the mayor's truck at the time, so we think that's maybe how I got to be mayor 49 years later."

But, as Mayor Kinslow and his father look around the city nearly 50 years later, they said they're thankful for what this area has become.

"It's amazing to just look around and see the beauty of it all now," Doug said.

"It's a pretty town, but it sure is pretty today, too," Fred said.

The Kinslow family was able to rebuild their home just two months later.

The annual ceremony to honor the tornado victims was held on Wednesday (Apr. 19). The ceremony started around 3:15 p.m., the same time the tornado hit the area. Mayor Kinslow read the victims' names and the historic site's bell rung after each name.

City leaders and those with Farmer's Bank said they are working to compile pictures, newspaper articles and firsthand stories into a book and documentary. Both will be released next year for the 50th anniversary of the tornado.