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The Woman Who Tried To Murder Dr. King

by Welcome to Harlem

For 50 years, would-be assassin has lived in complete anonymity

AUGUST 4–On the eighth floor of a nursing home in Queens, New York, a 98-year-old woman sits slumped in a wheelchair in the hallway outside her room. She is sleeping, oblivious to the roar coming from the television of her next-door neighbor, who is watching “The Price is Right” at an ear-piercing volume.

Though the corridor is uncomfortably toasty on this July morning, the woman has a knitted shawl over her shoulders. She is wearing green sweatpants, a green t-shirt, and black shoes with Velcro closures. The remaining wisps of her hair are gray and tangled. In her clenched left hand is a wad of tissues that she will use to absent-mindedly dab at her face and rheumy eyes.

As she naps in the hallway, it is hard to imagine that frail Izola Curry was once a would-be assassin, a woman who nearly changed the course of U.S. history with a seven-inch steel letter opener.

For more than half a century, Curry has lived in complete anonymity, despite the fact that she nearly murdered Martin Luther King, Jr. in September 1958, a decade before the civil rights leader was struck down by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Convinced that King and NAACP leaders were surveilling her and conspiring to deny her employment, the delusional Curry approached the civil rights leader as he sat in a Harlem department store signing copies of his first book. She plunged the letter opener deep into the 29-year-old King’s chest after asking him, “Why do you annoy  me?” According to a transcript of Curry’s post-arrest interrogation, she calmly told investigators that her motive was self-preservation: “Because after all if it wasn’t him it would have been me, he was going to kill me.”

Curry, who pulled the letter opener from her purse, was also carrying a loaded Galesi-Brescia pistol, which was hidden inside her bra. Curry bought the gun a year earlier for $26 in Daytona Beach, but told investigators that she had never taken the weapon outside her home–until September 20, the day she stabbed King. Curry claimed that she had no intention to shoot King, but instead needed the pistol for protection in case the reverend’s followers attacked her.

When asked why she placed the gun in her bust and not her handbag, Curry replied, “Suppose I happened to drop the bag and the safety go off and some innocent person is hurt.” Such concern was not evident hours earlier when Curry stabbed King with such force that her letter opener pierced his sternum. As seen above, a photo published on the front page of the New York Daily News showed King with the letter opener sticking out of his upper chest.

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