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Posted: March 18, 2015

Izola Ware Curry: Would-be King assassin dead at 98

In this Sept. 21, 1958, file photo, Martin Luther King Jr. recovers from surgery at New York's Harlem Hospital after an operation to remove steel letter opener from his chest.
John Lent / AP
In this Sept. 21, 1958, file photo, Martin Luther King Jr. recovers from surgery at New York's Harlem Hospital after an operation to remove steel letter opener from his chest.

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By Ernie Suggs

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

NEW YORK —

Izola Ware Curry, the so-called "demented" Harlem woman who tried to assassinate Martin Luther King Jr. in 1958, has died.

She was 98.

According to the Smoking Gun, Ware died at Hillside Manor nursing home in Queens, New York, where she spent most of her life.

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.”

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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 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.

Like King, Curry was a Georgian, born in 1916 in Adrian, about 100 miles from Savannah. She initially 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.

While Curry failed in her attempt to kill King, on the day before he was assassinated, he referenced her and the stabbing in his final speech, “I Have Been To The Mountaintop.”

In the speech, King recounted 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.

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