​September 20, 1958: Martin Luther King, Jr Was Stabbed

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When ‘Strive Toward Freedom’ was published, Martin Luther King, Jr went on a tour to promote it. On a Saturday afternoon, during a book signing at Blumstein department store in Harlem, NY, a well-dressed woman named Izola Curry, approached and asked him if he was Martin Luther King, Jr. When King replied in the affirmative, Curry said, “I’ve been looking for you for 5  years,” then stabbed him in the chest with a steel letter opener.

King was immediately taken by ambulance to Harlem Hospital, where surgeons spent 3 hours removing the blade from its precarious position. 

“Days later,” King wrote in his posthumously published autobiography, “When I was well enough to talk with Dr. Aubrey Maynard, the chief of the surgeons who performed the delicate, dangerous operation, I learned the reason for the long delay that preceded surgery. He told me 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.'”

While still in the hospital, King said in a September 30th 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 Curry 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.”

On October 17, after hearing King’s testimony, a grand jury indicted Curry for attempted murder. As a result of her indictment and subsequent hearings, she was adjudicated incompetent to stand trial and was committed to Matteawan State Hospital for the criminally insane.

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