This fact may not be lost on as many of you as it was to me. Last Wednesday, Trudie Kasper and I were brainstorming about our next edition and a few things to come down the pipes later this month. I refuse to spoil the goodies, but our conversation led to me networking with my neighbor and friend, Connie Page, who enlightened me about the fact that the woman who attempted to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. back in the late 1950s actually hails from Emanuel County.
Not that I didn’t believe my neighbor, but I set out to do some digging. I guess you could argue it’s the journalist in me! Either way, turns out Connie was right! Izola Curry did call our county home at one time. I decided to make this into a story for a few reasons: maybe you, too, didn’t know this fact; the anniversary of Curry’s death is this week; and, most importantly, I think we could all learn a thing or two from this infamous civil rights leader’s response.
Izola Ware Curry was born June 14, 1916 in Adrian. Her parents were reportedly sharecroppers in the area. This African American woman was 42-years-old at the time she attempted to murder Dr. King after a book signing at Blumstein’s Department Store in Harlem, New York.
According to The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, she was mentally disturbed. Curry approached King with a steel letter opener and drove the blade into the upper left side of his chest. He was then rushed to Harlem Hospital. There, he underwent more than two hours of surgery to repair the wound. Doctors said of the 29-year-old’s injuries that the weapon would have penetrated the aorta if he had so much as sneezed or coughed.
Curry moved to New York at the age of 20 to begin working as a cook and housekeeper. Shortly after her relocation, she developed delusions about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Dr. King himself, and other civil rights activists.
After the stabbing, Curry was arrested at the scene—and she was found carrying a loaded pistol. When police questioned her, 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. She further suggested that dangerous connections were being forced between the civil rights movement and the Community Party.
Thankfully, Dr. King survived the stabbing, the surgery that followed, and the recovery process. When Dr. King received word of his attacker’s mental state, he expressed his sympathy and issued the following statement when he returned back to his Montgomery, Alabama home: “I am deeply sorry that a deranged woman should have injured herself in seeking to injure me. 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.”
He later memorialized the attack in one of his most famous speeches, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” which he delivered in Memphis on April 3, 1968, just one day before his fateful death by a second yet success assassination attempt.
Curry was placed in Bellevue Hospital for observation following the stabbing, and despite being indicted by a grand jury, she was later found incompetent to stand trial. On October 1958, she was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and was thereby committed to a state hospital designated for the criminally insane.
Curry was eventually moved to a residential care program in Queens. She suffered a leg injury from a fall and was moved again, this time to a nursing home in Queens, where she died of natural causes March 7, 2015.
Dr. King lived another 10 years between the time of Curry’s attempted assassination of him in September 1958 to the time of his unfortunate assassination on April 4, 1968.