DOCUMENT: Investigation, Crime

MLK Jr.: The First Attempt

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Original Case Report

NYPD Interrogation of Izola Ware Curry

Criminal Indictment of Curry

Psychiatric Examination of Curry

Formal Hearing Report on Curry

King Statement From Harlem Hospital

A decade before James Earl Ray leveled a rifle at Martin Luther King Jr., a deranged New York City woman tried to murder the civil rights leader by plunging a letter opener into his chest. This past Saturday (September 20) marked the 39th anniversary of the afternoon Izola Ware Curry assaulted King as he sat in a Manhattan department store signing copies of "Stride Toward Freedom," his book about the Montgomery bus boycott.

Years later, when he gave his famous "Promised Land" speech (delivered to a Memphis crowd the day before his assassination), King recalled Curry's 1958 attack. "Before I knew it, I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that's punctured, you drown in your own blood--that's the end of you." King then added, "It came out in The New York Times the next morning that if I had sneezed, I would have died."

As he wrapped up what became his final speech, King noted that, if he had sneezed, he would have missed the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, the start of student sit-ins at lunch counters across the South, and other milestones of the civil rights movement. "If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering. I'm so happy that I didn't sneeze."

What follows is a selection of police and prosecution documents detailing Curry's attempted murder of King. Dubbed a "deranged Negro domestic" by the New York tabloids, Curry was judged unfit to stand trial and sent to a psychiatric facility. We have also included a remarkable statement from King himself, issued while he was recuperating from the attack. "Today it was I," he wrote in September1958. "Tomorrow it could be another leader or any man, woman or child who will be the victim of lawlessness and brutality."

Original Case Report (2 pages)

NYPD Interrogation of Izola Ware Curry (12 pages)

Criminal Indictment of Curry (1 page)

Psychiatric Examination of Curry (2 pages)

Formal Hearing Report on Curry (4 pages)

King Statement From Harlem Hospital (2 pages)