NEW YORK — 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, 2015 in Queens, N.Y. She was 98.
Curry died in a nursing home, the last stop in the series of institutions that had been her home for more than half a century. Her death was confirmed by the office of the chief medical examiner of New York City.
Curry, was a 42-year-old mentally disturbed woman when she stabbed King while he signed copies of his book “Stride Toward Freedom” at Blumstein’s Department Store in Harlem, New York. Curry approached King with a seven-inch steel letter opener and drove the blade into the upper left side of his chest. King was rushed to Harlem Hospital where he underwent two-and-a-quarter hours of surgery to repair the wound. Doctors operating on the 29-year-old leader said, “Had Dr. King sneezed or coughed the weapon would have penetrated the aorta. . . . He was just a sneeze away from death.”
Born in Adrian, Ga., Curry moved to New York at the age of 20 to begin work as a cook and housekeeper. Shortly after her relocation, Curry developed paranoid delusions about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders. After stabbing King, Curry was arrested at the scene and was found carrying a loaded gun. The .25-caliber pistol was hidden in her bra.
When questioned by police at New York’s 28th precinct, she accused civil rights leaders of “boycotting” and “torturing” her as well as causing her to lose jobs and forcing her to change her religion. Curry also suggested that dangerous connections were being forged between the civil rights movement and the Communist Party. After authorities informed her that she was being charged with felonious assault and possession of firearms, she reportedly replied, “I’m charging him [King] as well as he’s charging me…I’m charging him with being mixed up with the Communists.”
When King received word of his attacker’s mental state, he expressed his sympathy and issued a statement upon returning home to Montgomery, Ala.: “I am deeply sorry that a deranged woman should have injured herself in seeking to injure me,” he said. “I can say, in all sincerity, that I bear no bitterness toward her and I have felt no resentment from the sad moment that the experience occurred. I know that we want her to receive the necessary treatment so that she may become a constructive citizen in an integrated society where a disorganized personality need not become a menace to any man.”
Following the stabbing, Curry was placed in Bellevue Hospital for observation and was found not competent to stand trial. She was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and committed to Matteawan State Hospital for the criminally insane.
She remained there for some 14 years befire living in a series of residential-care homes before entering the nursing home.
Curry apparently left no living immediate family. If her body is not claimed in the coming weeks, it will be taken to New York’s potter’s field on Hart Island, in Long Island Sound off the Bronx. — (AP)