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MLK Was Nearly Stabbed to Death a Decade Before His Assassination

January 15, 2019 in History

By Christopher Klein

A small crowd gathered around Martin Luther King, Jr. in the shoe section of a Harlem department store on September 20, 1958. They had come to meet the 29-year-old preacher who sat in a roped-off section of Blumstein’s Department Store autographing copies of Stride Toward Freedom, his memoir about the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The Civil Rights leader was signing a book when a 42-year-old African-American woman wearing sequined cat’s eye glasses and a stylish suit slipped past the 20 people in line and approached him. “Are you Martin Luther King?” she asked with a Southern drawl.

“Yes,” replied King.

Without warning, the woman leaned over the desk and plunged a seven-inch penknife into King’s chest with such force that it snapped the handle. Bystanders restrained the woman, Izola Ware Curry, until she could be arrested. “I’ve been after him for six years. I’m glad I done it!” she shouted.

A letter opener protruding from his chest, Martin Luther King, Jr. is shown having another wound treated at W. 123rd St. police station in Harlem after being stabbed at a book signing in 1958.

Amid the chaos and screaming, King remained conscious and calm as a blood stain spread on his white cotton shirt. “That’s all right. Everything is going to be all right,” he counseled frantic supporters who debated whether to pull out the penknife. Luckily, no one did because it might have proved fatal as the steel tip of the blade rested a fraction of an inch away from King’s aorta, the main artery carrying blood from the heart to the rest of his body.

With the knife still lodged in his sternum, King was carried in his chair to an ambulance and rushed to Harlem Hospital. There he received a shock when he again came face-to-face with his attacker, who had been brought there by the police for identification.

It quickly became clear that Curry, a Georgia-born sharecropper’s daughter who had been concealing a loaded pistol in her bra, was mentally ill. During her police interrogation, Curry gave incoherent and conflicting statements and referred to the preacher as either “Arthur King” or “Arthur Luther.” Curry blamed King and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which she accused of conspiring with communists, for placing her under constant surveillance and conspiring to prevent her from holding a steady job.

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