Remembering the 16th Street church bombing 56 years later

State / Regional

On Sunday, September 15th, 1963, 10-year-old Homer Crawford Coke was in Sunday school expecting to go to service, but instead, he was bombed.

“You don’t hear that boom, it’s not like that loud sound like that. It seemed like the building was shaking, you know we felt it shaking under our feet, and there was a lot of glass. And of course, from the glass and the wood structure, that’s what made a lot of noise, was the structure falling down,” Homer said.

Homer was inside 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham when a bomb planted in the basement by members of the Ku Klux Klan exploded. The church was one of the largest black churches in the city and was known for holding civil rights meetings. The attack injured over 20 people and killed four young girls who were in the bathroom.

“Three I knew real well, now Addie Collins I didn’t know as well. Carole Robertson I knew real well, Cynthia Wesley, you know, Denise McNair, the other three girls, I knew them real well,” Homer said.

Homer ran out of the building as fast as he could and escaped uninjured. His father, who was a Deacon at the church, was actually not there that day. But when his parents heard the news on the radio, they rushed to the scene.

“Of course, my father became one of the people who searched for survivors and whatever bodies, it’s unfortunate,” Homer said. “That was my father H.D. Coke. He was Homer Daniel, but he always said H.D. stood for “Honey Darlin’.”

Homer’s dad was very involved in the Civil Rights Movement and was actually an acquaintance of Martin Luther King Sr. and other activists. But even with his knowledge, Homer says as a 10-year-old, it was hard to understand why someone could have so much hatred towards a group of people just because of their color.

“Why would somebody want to do that? Particularly against people they didn’t particularly know,” Homer said.

Homer says the bombing actually left him with a lot of hatred that took time to get rid of.

“I think it is just a process, because like I said just going to church alone didn’t do it for me know. I just thank God I didn’t do things to other people or do anything to myself,” Homer said.

Even today, Homer says his biggest message is that hatred is always a bad thing, whether it’s towards one person or a group of people.

“Hatred doesn’t solve anything, because you think about it – hatred really hurts more I think the person who commits the crime, than the people who the crime is being perpetrated against. I say examine yourself and improve yourself each and every day,” Homer said.

Homer is planning to go to Sixteenth Street Baptist Church for the anniversary and he is expecting it to be an emotional experience.

“It’s going to bring back memories, you know, it’s going to bring back memories,” Homer said.

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