Ten years before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life was almost taken by a woman named Izola Ware Curry. Curry was a 42-year-old mentally ill woman who stabbed Dr. King on September 20, 1958. The disturbed woman used a letter opener to brutally wound Dr. King during his New York book signing for “Stride Toward Freedom.”
Izola Ware Curry was a native of Adrian, Ga., born in 1916. She moved to New York at age 20 and worked as a housekeeper. It was soon after moving to New York that she began experiencing delusions about the NAACP and Dr. King.
Curry was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and believed that Dr. King, the NAACP and civil rights activists were mixed up with Communists and torturing her. When she attended the book signing in New York, she told Dr. King “I’ve been looking for you for five years” then stabbed him in the left chest area. The doctors of Harlem Hospital later told the reverend that if he had sneezed, the instrument would have punctured his aorta and he would have bled to death.
Immediately after the incident, Curry was arrested. She was found to be carrying a handgun. Curry was charged with felonious assault and possession of firearms. She was, of course, found incompetent to stand trial and was transferred from Bellevue Hospital where she had been in observation to a permanent home at the Matteawan State Hospital for the criminally insane.
Ten days after the incident. Dr. King, who was still hospitalized, publicly stated that he held no resentment toward Curry and that he had hoped she would receive the help she needed.