Izola Ware Curry enters a New York City police station, Sept. 20, 1958, where she was questioned in the stabbing of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a department store in Harlem during a book signing. Police said the civil rights leader was stabbed by Mrs. Curry, who told them several "rambling" stories and at times was incoherent. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)
Photo: Marty Lederhandler/AP
Photo: Marty Lederhandler/AP

Who was Izola Curry? And why did she try to kill Martin Luther King Jr.?

59 years ago today, Georgia woman tried to change the course of history

On Sept. 20, 1958, Izola Ware Curry, a poor and “demented” woman from Georgia, became a footnote in history — just a literal sneeze away from being a major figure. 

That was the day the sometime housekeeper and short-order cook plunged an ivory-handled,  seven-inch letter opener into the chest of Martin Luther King Jr. while he was in Harlem for a book signing. She wanted to kill King, she said, because she believed he was a communist and had been spying on her. 

Curry was quickly arrested and, within a month, was committed to a hospital for the criminally insane after doctors determined that she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

Dr. Emil A. Naclerio, member of the surgical team that operated on the Rev. Martin Luther King, at King’s bedside in Harlem Hospital in New York on Sept. 21, 1958. Rev. King, stabbed by Izola Ware Curry as he appeared at a Harlem Department store on September 20, was still on the critical list after an operation. (AP Photo/PL)

The letter opener she used was so precariously close to King’s aorta that had he sneezed, he would have punctured the aorta and died. A decade later, on April 3, 1968, he recalled the attack in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. 

The next day, an assassin’s bullet did what Curry couldn’t.

Read the full story about Curry’s life in myajc.com

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