September 20, 1958 in New York history

📝 On This Day 📝

62 years ago on September 20th, 1958

Martin Luther King, Jr. narrowly escapes death in Harlem

He was stabbed with a seven-inch letter opener at a book signing at Blumstein's department store. While signing copies of his book 'Stride Toward Freedom', a woman approached him and stabbed him in the chest. He required emergency surgery and recovered in hospital for several weeks. The attacker, Izola Curry, was deemed mentally incompetent, having previously suffered delusions and paranoia, and did not stand trial. Ten days after the stabbing, King held his first public appearance from his hospital room where he began by forgiving Izola Curry, expressing his hope that she get the help she needs, and using the attack to call attention to larger issues:

"The pathetic aspect of this experience is not the injury to one individual. It demonstrates that a climate of hatred and bitterness so permeates areas of our nation that inevitably deeds of extreme violence must erupt. Today it is I. Tomorrow it could be another leader or any man, woman or child who will be the victim of lawlessness and brutality." — Martin Luther King, Jr.

King was released from Harlem Hospital on October 3rd and would recover at the home of Sandy Ray in Brooklyn until October 24th. Izola Curry spent the years after the attack in various care institutions and died in 2015 at the age of 98.

King would refer to the stabbing in his 1968 "I've been to the mountaintop" speech in Memphis, recounting his days in the hospital and expressing his gratitude that he survived to see the accomplishments of the civil rights movement. He was assassinated the next day.

Today, 125th Street, the "main street" of Harlem where Blumstein's department store and many Harlem landmarks are located, has been renamed for Dr. King.


References:

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