Many of you may not know Izola Ware Curry, the so-called “demented” Harlem woman who tried to assassinate Martin Luther King Jr. in 1958. I’ve often wondered what happened to her. Since the assassination attempt she vanished. Well, now I know because she has died at age 98, at the Hillside Manor nursing home in Queens, New York, where she spent most of her life.
READ: “When Harlem Saved A King” for the story.
On Sept. 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his book “Stride Toward Freedom” at Blumstein’s Department Store. Curry walked up to King and asked, “Are you Dr. King?” King replied, “Yes.” Curry then plunged a seven-inch steel letter opener into his chest. Curry also had a loaded gun with her.
After her arrest, Curry was taken to Bellevue Hospital and eventually found not competent to stand trial. She would be diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and described by psychiatrists as having “low average intelligence,” and suffering from a “severe state of insanity.” She was committed to Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for the last 56 years.
For his part, King forgave his assailant. Ten days after the stabbing, he said he “felt no ill will toward Mrs. Izola Curry… I 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,” King said.
Curry was a native Georgian, born in 1916 in Adrian, about 100 miles from Savannah. She moved to New York in 1937, working on and off as a housekeeper, short-order cook or factory worker. Initial reports about her after the stabbing suggest that she stabbed King because she had come to believe that black leaders were plotting against her. When questioned by police, she accused civil rights leaders of “boycotting” and “torturing” her, preventing her from getting jobs and forcing her to change her religion.
In the speech, King famously referenced the incident on the day before he was assassinated in his “I Have Been To The Mountain Top” speech. He said that the tip of Curry’s blade rested on the edge of his aorta and that if he had merely sneezed, he would have died.
This woman in the commission of this attack could very well have changed the course of every life thereafter. Because, we saw after the death of Dr. King the movement and his organization fell apart. Therefore, I doubt much progress would have been made in the 1960s without the Good Dr. This is one demented soul that should not rest in peace. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…