June 14, 1916
Adrian, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||March 7, 2015
Jamaica Estates, Queens, New York, U.S.
|Known for||1958 assassination attempt on Martin Luther King, Jr.|
|Spouse(s)||James Curry (m.1937; divorced)|
Izola Curry (née Ware; June 14, 1916 – March 7, 2015) was an African-American woman who attempted to assassinate the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. She stabbed King with a letter opener at a Harlem book signing on September 20, 1958, during the Harlem civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s. King survived Curry's attempt, and forgave her, but was killed less than ten years later in an unrelated incident.
Curry was one of eight children born to sharecroppers in 1916 near Adrian, Georgia, a city about 100 miles northwest of Savannah. She left school in the seventh grade and later married a man named James Curry when she was 21. The couple separated about six months after their 1937 nuptials, and Izola moved to New York City, where she found work as a housekeeper.
After moving to New York, Curry began to suffer delusions and paranoia, particularly about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. This contributed to employment difficulties, and she bounced around various locations and jobs before arriving in New York in late 1958.
Assassination attempt on Martin Luther King Jr.
King went on a tour to promote his book, Stride Toward Freedom, soon after it was published. During a book signing at Blumstein's department store in Harlem, on September 20, 1958, Curry approached and asked him if he was Martin Luther King, Jr. When King replied in the affirmative, Curry stabbed him in the chest with a steel letter opener.
Careful surgery was required to remove the blade. King wrote in his posthumously published autobiography that he was told that
the razor tip of the instrument had been touching my aorta and that my whole chest had to be opened to extract it. 'If you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting,' Dr. Maynard said, 'your aorta would have been punctured and you would have drowned in your own blood.'
While he was still in the hospital, on September 30, King issued a press release in which he reaffirmed his belief in "the redemptive power of nonviolence" and issued a hopeful statement about his attacker: "I felt no ill will toward Mrs. Izola Currey [sic] and know that thoughtful people will do all in their power to see that she gets the help she apparently needs if she is to become a free and constructive member of society." He issued a similar statement on his return home, again stating that he hoped she would get help, and that society would improve so that "a disorganized personality need not become a menace to any man." On October 17, after hearing King's testimony, a grand jury indicted Curry for attempted murder.
Two psychiatrists reported that Curry had low intelligence and was in a severe "state of insanity." On October 20, she was committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
After 14 years at Matteawan, Curry was transferred to the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on Ward’s Island in Upper Manhattan, and then to a residential care program in Rosedale, Queens. After a fall resulting in a leg injury, Curry was placed in the Jamaica, Queens, New York nursing home, where she resided until her death. Curry died of natural causes.
- James Earl Ray, who assassinated King
- "Curry, Izola Ware (1916- )". Martin Luther King, Jr. Encyclopedia. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-17.
- Pearson, Hugh (2017-01-17). When Harlem Nearly Killed King: The 1958 Stabbing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 9781583226148.
- "The Woman Who Tried To Murder Dr. King". The Smoking Gun. 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-04.
- Michael Daly (January 20, 2014). "The Black and White Men Who Saved Martin Luther King's Life". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on January 22, 2014. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
Stabbed in the chest in 1958, one mistake or sneeze would have fatally severed his aorta if not for the deft work for two cops and two surgeons.
- Carson, Clayborne, ed. (2001-01-01). "Ch. 12: Brush With Death". The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 9780759520370.
- "King Statement". The Smoking Gun. 1958-09-30. Retrieved 2007-07-04.
- "Statement Upon Return to Montgomery". Martin Luther King, Jr. Encyclopedia. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Retrieved 2017-01-17.
- "INDICTED IN KING ATTACK; Harlem Woman Is Accused of Attempted Murder". The New York Times. 1958-10-18. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-01-17.
- "Izola Ware Curry, "Demented Black Woman" Who Nearly Killed Martin Luther King, Jr., Dies At 98". The Smoking Gun. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- Margalit Fox (March 21, 2015). "Izola Ware Curry, Who Stabbed King in 1958, Dies at 98". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-03-21.
Izola Ware Curry, the mentally ill woman who in 1958 stabbed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a Harlem book signing — an episode that a decade later would become a rhetorical touchstone in the last oration of his life — died on March 7 in Queens. She was 98 years old.