Fifty years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., by James Earl Ray, a racist who abhorred King’s mission. But 10 years afore that, there was addition advance on King’s activity — in New York City — which afflicted the civil-rights baton profoundly. And, as James L. Swanson explains in his new book, “Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin,” it came aural an inch of alteration the advance of history.
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In the abatement of 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a 29-year-old abbot in Montgomery, Ala., who had afresh risen to civic bulge as a civil-rights activist, catholic to New York City to advance his aboriginal book. He about didn’t accomplish it out of boondocks alive.
New York was his aboriginal stop on a civic publicity bout for his book, “Stride Against Freedom.” The account was about his captivation in the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott. King’s administration of the avoid had adapted him from a abstruse preacher into an important civil-rights leader. He was at the aurora of what promised to be a ablaze career.
King accustomed in New York City on Monday, Sept. 15, 1958. For several days, there would be book signings, media appearances and accessible events. A highlight of the cruise was a assemblage of 5,000 bodies in advanced of the Hotel Theresa in Harlem on the atramentous of Friday, Sept. 19. The baseball brilliant Jackie Robinson appeared onstage; artist Duke Ellington and his orchestra played; New York Gov. Averell Harriman and his adversary in the gubernatorial campaign, Nelson Rockefeller, fabricated political speeches.
But there was one atramentous being that night, a well-dressed atramentous woman who stood abaft the speaker’s belvedere and heckled the white dignitaries as they addressed the crowd, babble that she capital annihilation to do with anyone or annihilation white.
King abandoned her.
“Many of you,” he said, “had hoped I would arise actuality to accompany you a bulletin of abhorrence adjoin the white man . . . I arise actuality with no such message. Atramentous supremacy is aloof as bad as white supremacy. I arise actuality with a bulletin of adulation rather than hate. Don’t let any man accomplish you stoop so low that you accept hate. Accept adulation in your hearts to those who would do you wrong.”
When the affair was over, one of King’s hosts worriedly adapted that he accede accepting a babysitter the abutting day — his aftermost in New York.
King absolved the idea.
On Saturday, Sept. 20, a little afterwards 3 p.m., King accustomed at Blumstein’s administration abundance on West 125th Street amid Seventh and Eighth Avenues. A board and armchair had been set up for him in a roped-off breadth abaft the shoe administration on the aboriginal floor. He sat bottomward and airish for photographs, including one with an account bouncer of adolescent atramentous girls who wore sashes over their adapted shoulders, emblazoned with the name of their school, Wadleigh Junior High.
King began to assurance books, devoting a little time to anniversary guest, exchanging affable words. Back the band had dwindled to about 20 people, a woman aback cut to the front. She was alpine and dressed in an adorable jacket, white blouse, dejected skirt, and heels. She wore earrings and fashionable cat-eye glasses, and she agitated a big handbag. No one seemed to apprehend it was the affronted woman from the antecedent night. Her name was Izola Ware Curry. She was 42 and divorced, a Georgia built-in who had movedto New York and had formed as a maid.
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She paused in advanced of the desk. No one stood amid her and King. She was abundant afterpiece to him now than she’d been at the rally.
She faced King and looked into his eyes.
She bedevilled a loaded .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol that was active in her bra. She could accept calmly accomplished for it now, but she had addition weapon hidden in her handbag, a Japanese letter opener in a ablaze blood-soaked sheath. This was no accustomed letter opener: It was, according to addition who would anon accept account to appraise it closely, an “extremely narrow, rigid, adamant animate brand 6 to 8 inches in length, which had allegedly been acicular forth its breadth to the point.” With its copse handle, it resembled a miniature samurai brand and had the biting ability of an ice pick.
“Are you Martin Luther King?” She asked.
“Yes, I am,” King answered.
Curry shouted, “I’ve been afterwards you for bristles years! You’ve fabricated abundant bodies suffer. I accept to do it! I accept to do it!”
For some reason, she had called the brand over the pistol, and arresting the letter opener in her hand, she advance her arm up in the air.
King saw the brand address bottomward on him and aimlessly approved to anticipate it with his arm. His acknowledgment deflected, but did not block, the blade’s momentum. It broken his hand, inflicting a beef wound. Then Curry active the letter opener in King’s chest. It punched through his breastbone and lodged two and a division inches abysmal central him. She had addled him so adamantine that the handle bankrupt off.
Photographer Vernoll Coleman was at Blumstein’s accomplishing publicity assignment for King’s publisher. “I was alignment a [photo] back the accomplished affair happened,” he said. “I anticipation the woman had artlessly swung at him or slapped him. But back I took a additional look, I saw that affair afraid out of [his] chest.”
Coleman airtight a photograph that would arise in newspapers about the world: a addled Martin Luther King, Jr., with a brand afraid out of his chest while a woman angled over him to clean the claret from his blood-soaked hand.
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“Women began screaming,” the columnist recalled, “and the army approved to get at this woman.” One attestant shouted, “She cut Dr. King!”
King hoped to calm them. “That’s all right!” He said. “That’s all right! Everything’s activity to be all right.”
But he was in shock and he backward seated. The addled attending on his face adapted that he did not absolutely appreciate what had aloof happened or how actively he had been wounded. Claret oozed from the wound, staining his brittle white affection dress shirt.
“I’ve been afterwards him for years!” Curry screamed again. “I’m animated I done it!”
Then she approved to run away. The women in King’s associates chased her. Waving their umbrellas like clubs, they shouted, “Catch her, don’t let her go!” Walter Pettiford, an announcement controlling for the Amsterdam News, New York City’s arch atramentous newspaper, affective her by the larboard arm and spun her around. Harry Dixon, the store’s attic manager, aloft his easily and pleaded, “Please don’t abuse her.”
A aegis bouncer called Clifford Jackson bedfast Curry, and he and a badge administrator hustled her out of the abundance and into a cab, apprenticed for a adjacent badge station.
Someone approached King and accomplished for the letter opener, acquiescent to the alluring allurement to draw the brand out, but a articulation shouted, “Don’t cull it out. You’ll annihilate him.”
No one on the arena knew it, but the brand was so abutting to King’s aorta that any abrupt amplification of his chest, from coughing or sneezing, could accept pushed the capital avenue of the affection anon into the point of the blade. If that avenue were punctured, King would drain to afterlife afore he accustomed at a hospital.
A badge administrator and paramedic agitated King, still sitting in the chair, to the ambulance.
A little afterwards 4 p.m., about a half-hour afterwards the attack, King, still conscious, was brought into the Harlem Hospital Emergency Room. Doctors and nurses rushed to his side. Then he looked up and, startled, came contiguous with a woman he recognized. It was Izola Curry! Badge admiral had brought her there for King to analyze her as his assailant.
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After this alarming encounter, doctors absitively that it was too chancy to abolish the weapon afterwards surgery, so they agilely able King for the operation and placed him beneath anesthesia. He drifted off to beddy-bye in the operating room, not alive if he would reawaken.
Police in New York told the columnist that Curry was “emotionally disturbed.” And already Izola Curry was in custody, every chat she batten to badge admiral or reporters accepted that antecedent impression.
From his hospital bed, King asked that this afflicted woman not be punished. “I feel no ill will against [her] and apperceive that anxious bodies will do all in their ability to see that she gets the advice she allegedly needs.”
Charged with attempted murder, Curry was never put on trial. Instead, she was beatific to a brainy institution.
On Oct. 3, King was appear from Harlem Hospital and, afterwards a ages of blow and recuperation, fabricated a abounding recovery. It seemed he was destined for more.
If Izola Curry had murdered Martin Luther King, Jr. on Sept. 20, 1958, his assassination would accept adapted the afterlife of 20th-century America. Bristles years afterwards the stabbing, he would bear one of the best acclaimed speeches in the nation’s history, “I Accept a Dream.”
But the assassination advance afflicted Martin Luther King, Jr. It able in him a faculty of fatalism, an accepting of the dangers, risks and ambiguity that he charge accomplish his accord with if he chose to abide to advance the civil-rights movement.
“The acquaintance of these aftermost few canicule has deepened my acceptance in the . . . spirit of nonviolence,” he said. “I accept now arise to see added acutely [its] redemptive power.”
He said afterwards the stabbing, “We charge all be able to die.”
When King’s surgical scars healed, they formed a cantankerous over his heart.
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He joked that these were adapted wounds for a abbot of the gospel.
Excerpted with permission from “Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin” by James L. Swanson, out now from Scholastic Press.
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