Did you know that a woman stabbed Martin Luther King — and nearly killed him — ten years before James Earl Ray assassinated the civil rights leader at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis?
We didn’t (and we thought we knew our history) but the incident did happen. And now The Smoking Gun has found her, at age 98, living in a nursing home in New York.
Mrs. Izola Ware Curry was that would-be assassin. The mentally unstable woman was convinced that King and NAACP leaders were surveying her and conspiring to deny her employment. According to her police statement, she happened to be “window shopping” at Blumstein’s department store when she realized King was there signing copies of Stride Toward Freedom, his account of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. She approached the civil rights leader and asked if he was Dr. King. When he told her he was, she reportedly asked, “Why do you annoy me?” and then plunged a letter opener into the 29-year-old man’s chest.
Ironically, Curry had a gun in her purse as well, but grabbed the letter opener instead.
Dr. King came very close to dying, and mentioned the stabbing many times. During his “Promised Land” speech that was delivered in Memphis the day before he was murdered, he said:
You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. Before I knew it, I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. That blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you drowned in your own blood, that’s the end of you. It came out in The New York Times the next morning that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died.
According to a transcript of Curry’s post-arrest interrogation, Curry calmly told investigators that she did it “Because after all if it wasn’t him it would have been me, he was going to kill me.”
Curry was found mentally insane and was committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in upstate Fishkill, New York. Curry was eventually transferred in March 1972 to the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on Ward’s Island in upper Manhattan, then to the Rosedale, Queens home of a woman certified through the state’s “Family Care” program. At some point she fell and injured her leg, which brought her to the current long-term nursing home where she now lives.
A TSG reporter interviewed Curry. The article says that Curry “met questions about King and the stabbing with a furrowed brow and a blank stare. While offering no recollections of the attack, Curry referred to ‘1958’ and said that she was placed that year in a ‘hospital for the criminally insane.'”
To read how Curry was found. learn more about her and the whole story with Dr. King, and to examine the various psychological records and police reports, visit The Smoking Gun.