Izola Curry

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Izola Curry
Born 1916-06-14
Adrian, Georgia, U.S.
Died 2015-03-07
Jamaica Estates, Queens, New York, U.S.
Occupation Housekeeper
Known for 1958 assassination attempt on Martin Luther King Jr.

Izola Curry (née Ware; 1916-2015) 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.

Early life

Curry was one of eight children born to sharecroppers in 1916[1][2] 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 later, and Izola moved to New York City, where she found work as a housekeeper.[1]

After moving to New York, Curry began to suffer delusions and schizophrenia,[3] particularly about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.[1] This contributed to employment difficulties,[3] and she bounced around various locations and jobs before returning to New York in late 1958.[2]

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.

An advertising executive for The Amsterdam News, a prominent Black newspaper, grabbed and restrained Curry. A well-meaning bystander reached out to pull the letter opener out of King's chest, but by this time New York City police officers Al Howard and Philip Romano had arrived upon the scene and acted quickly. They immediately recognized the risk of pulling out the opener and prevented the bystander from acting, then called Harlem Hospital to coordinate with doctors how to get King safely out of the store without risking having the knife be jarred. This included some subterfuge on the part of Officer Howard, announcing to the large assembled crowd that Dr. King would be taken to an ambulance arriving at the front of the store (and going there himself to wait, to maintain the ruse), while in actuality Officer Romano and others carefully carried him, still sitting in his chair, out the back.[4]

Careful surgery was required to remove the blade.[5] 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.'[6]

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 CurreyTemplate: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."[7] 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."[8] On October 17, after hearing King's testimony, a grand jury indicted Curry for attempted murder.[9]

At the time of her attack on King, Curry was also carrying a loaded Galesi-Brescia pistol, hidden inside her bra.[10][11][12]


A psychiatrist diagnosed Curry as a paranoid schizophrenic, reporting that Curry had an IQ of 70 and was in a severe "state of insanity". On October 20 she was found incapable of understanding the charge against her, and was committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.[1][3]

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 a Jamaica, Queens, New York nursing home, where she resided until her death.[3] Curry died of natural causes.[13][14]

See also


Some content on this page may previously have appeared on Wikipedia.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Curry, Izola Ware. King Encyclopedia. Stanford University | Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pearson, Hugh (2017-01-17). When Harlem Nearly Killed King: The 1958 Stabbing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 9781583226148. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 The Woman Who Tried To Murder Dr. King, The Smoking Gun, 2014-08-04.
  4. Wilson, Michael. Before 'I Have a Dream,' Martin Luther King Almost Died. This Man Saved Him., The New York Times, 2020-11-13. (in en-US)
  5. Daly, Michael. The Black and White Men Who Saved Martin Luther King's Life, 2014-01-20. “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.”
  6. (2001-01-01) “Ch. 12: Brush With Death”, The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., 2nd e-book. New York City: Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-0-759-52037-0. 
  7. King, Martin Luther Jr.. King Statement, The Smoking Gun, 1958-09-30.
  8. Template:Cite archive
  9. INDICTED IN KING ATTACK; Harlem Woman Is Accused of Attempted Murder, 1958-10-18.
  10. The day Martin Luther King Jr. was almost killed
  11. Izola Ware Curry, 98, woman who stabbed MLK
  12. The fateful NYC visit that left MLK 'prepared to die'
  13. Izola Ware Curry, "Demented Black Woman" Who Nearly Killed Martin Luther King, Jr., Dies At 98, The Smoking Gun, 2015-03-09.
  14. Margalit Fox. Izola Ware Curry, Who Stabbed King in 1958, Dies at 98, 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.”