Charles Liston was born on May 8, 1932 in St. Francis County, Arkansas, United States, the son of tenant farmer Tobey Liston and his second wife, Helen. Liston was the twenty-fourth of his father's twenty-five children. Along with his many siblings, Liston grew up working in the local cotton fields. His father was an abusive alcoholic, and Liston left at age thirteen to live with an aunt in St. Louis, Missouri, after an argument with him. "We grew up with few clothes, no shoes, little to eat. My father worked me hard and whupped me hard, " Liston said of his childhood. Liston had trouble with the police as a teenager and was arrested multiple times.