September 20th 1958: Martin Luther King assassination attempt
On this day in 1958, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. narrowly escaped death after being stabbed in the chest. Izola Curry, a mentally ill African-American woman, was convinced that King and the NAACP were conspiring with communists to keep her under surveillance and deprive her of work. Curry approached King at a Harlem department store as he signed copies of his book, and stabbed him with a seven-inch letter opener, asking why he was tormenting her. The blade was perilously close to puncturing King’s aorta, and if he had merely sneezed, he would have died. A team of black and white doctors at Harlem hospital conducted the delicate surgery to remove the blade. During his five week recuperation, King received well-wishes from thousands of people, including the President and Vice-President. In his first statement since the attack, King said he bore Curry no ill will, and hoped she would receive the help she needed. Curry was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, and a judge ruled her insane, deciding she was incapable of aiding her defense. Izola Curry was then committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in upstate New York, and spent the remainder of her life in care; she died in 2015 aged 98. In 1968, a decade after the attempt on his life, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis by James Earl Ray. King recalled how close he came to death in 1958 in his famous ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech (listen from 35.29), which he made the day before his murder.
“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when
students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters…
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around
here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation
in inter-state travel…
If I had
wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black
people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and
brought into being the Civil Rights Bill…
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had
a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see
the great Movement there…
I hate soap dishes. They never drain properly and so your soap gets all soft on the bottom. Izola wants to console me using these wonderfully aesthetic, ceramic soap dishes. But in case that wasn’t enough, Izola also sells matching soap kits. I’m not sure I can handle how much of a matching hand sanitation theme is going on right now.