Townsend was born in Kilmichael, Mississippi, USA, on 31 March 1908, to parents Will Townsend and Minnie Henson. He had two older and seven younger siblings. His maternal grandfather was Syrus Bogan Henson (1835-1910), a former slave and the founder of the Elkhorn Primitive Baptist Church in Kilmichael, Mississippi.
At some point, he married Rena Woodall. The couple had three children.
Townsend was an active and contributing member to New Salem Baptist Church in South Bend, Indiana for 74 years. His wife died in November 2015, aged 99. In June 2016, at the age of 108, he met then-US President, Barack Obama.
Townsend died in South Bend, Indiana, USA, on 22 October 2019 at the age of 111 years, 205 days.
His age was validated by LongeviQuest on 27 February 2023.