Tag Archives: Black History

Izola Curry Stabs Martin Luther King Jr

Izola Curry Stabs Martin Luther King Jr

September 20, 1958

Izola Curry Stabs Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Luther King, Jr

Boomers remember the day that James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr 1968 had begun with the disillusioning Tet Offensive and June 5 brought Sirhan Sirhan's assassination of Robert Kennedy on the night RFK mostly wrapped up the Democratic nomination for president.

When Ray assassinated King, it didn't bring surprise or shock so much as worry and wonder. When would the violence end? 

1958 book signing

Martin Luther King, Jr was in New York City signing copies of his recently published book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story in Blumstein's department store. Izola Ware Curry was on line with others who were waiting for King to sign a copy of the book. 

Izola Ware Curry was a woman with mental illness. The illness prevented her from holding a job. She moved regularly in hopes of finding a permanent job and living in a permanent location.

Izola Curry Stabs Martin Luther King Jr

When she came up to King she asked him if he was Martin Luther King, Jr. When King replied yes, she said, "I've been looking for you for five years," then stabbed him in the chest with a steel letter opener.

NYPD officers Al Howard and Phil Romano responded. Very luckily for King, Howard told him, "Don’t sneeze, don’t even speak." At the Harlem Hospital, chief of thoracic and vascular surgery John W. V. Cordice, Jr., and trauma surgeon Emil Naclerio [who had been attending a wedding and arrived still in a tuxedo] were the first to treat King. They  inserted a rib spreader, making King’s aorta visible. 

Chief of Surgery Aubre de Lambert Maynard then entered and attempted to pull out the letter opener, but cut his glove on the blade; a surgical clamp was finally used to remove it.

While it may seem that a letter opener is not necessarily a very dangerous weapon, had Curry's thrust gone any deeper it would have hit King's aorta and likely killed him.


When King later spoke of the incident, he sometimes told about how many letter of encouragement he'd received. Even from President Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon. But he typically spoke about a letter that a high school student from White Plains, NY sent: 
Dear Dr. King,

I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School. While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.

With gallows humor, King always closed the telling by saying, "And I'm glad I didn't sneeze, too." He  referred to the letter the day before Ray assassinated him.

Izola Curry

A grand jury indicted Isola Curry, but psychiatrists found her too ill to be responsible for her actions. She first went to Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, near Poughkeepsie, N.Y. She remained there for some 14 years. She was later institutionalized for about a year at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on Wards Island, in the East River. She lived in a series of residential-care homes before entering a nursing home in Queens, NY.

She died there on March 7, 2015 with no known relatives. (NYT obit)
PDF NYT article: MLK stabbed

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Coleman L Blease

Coleman L Blease

On July 15,1930 US Senator Blease advocated a lynch law for blacks (only) guilty of criminally assaulting white women,

As if that wasn't enough, he had already read a poem entitled "Niggers in the White House" on the floor of the Senate.
Coleman L Blease
Coleman L Blease when governor of South Carolina

Coleman L Blease

The quick biographical description of Coleman L Blease reads like many other elected officials of his times: the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Blease was born on October 8, 1868 in Newberry, South Carolina. Of course that is just after the Civil War ended and where the Civil War was fought.

Coleman L Blease graduated from Georgetown University in 1889. He became a lawyer.

Elected official

Voters elected Blease to the South Carolina State House as a State Representative in 1890. He served in that capacity from 1890 - 1894 and again from 1899 - 1900. 

He was mayor of Helena, SC in 1897 and became Governor of South Carolina in 1911 and served as governor until 1915. He had a determined personality and nearly came to blows once with a SC representative.

Senator Coleman L Blease

The people of South Carolina elected Blease to the US Senate in 1924 and he served one term as senator until March 3, 1931.

In 1928, Blease proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, requiring that would have set a punishment for interracial couples attempting to get married and anyone officiating an interracial marriage. 

Jessie DePriest

Jessie DePriest was the wife of Illinois congressman Oscar DePriest. In June 1928, then First Lady Lou Hoover invited Mrs DePriest to the White House for tea. Blease was outraged at the invitation because the DePriests were black. Blease proposed a resolution to Congress to remind the Hoovers that they should show respect to the White House and to remember that they were only temporary residents of the White House. 

As if his inference was not obvious enough, he then read an outrageous poem entitled "Niggers in the White House."

Blease L Coleman

The Senate expunged Blease's comments from the Record.

July 15, 1930

In 1926, Blease had offered his services pro bono to Aiken County, South Carolina to help defend it from suits brought by the heirs of three blacks who had been lynched in that county.

And It was on July 15,1930 while Blease was US Senator that he advocated a lynch law for Blacks (only) guilty of criminally assaulting white women. He enthusiastically declared to a group of supporters that, "Whenever the Constitution comes between me and the virtue of the white women of the South, I say to hell with the Constitution!"

Out of office

Blease was an unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1930 and an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1934 and 1938;

Blease died in Columbia, S.C., January 19, 1942. His family interred him in Rosemont Cemetery, Newberry, S.C. if you'd like to visit and pay your disrespects.


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1964 Freedom Summer Riders

1964 Freedom Summer Riders

1964 Freedom Summer Riders

Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee

On March 20, 1964 the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC–“snick”] announced the “Freedom Summer” program that would train young people to go to Mississippi and help disenfranchised Blacks register to vote.

In 1962, less than 7% of eligible Black voters in Mississippi were registered to vote due to the many blatantly racist laws and customs that States had put into place and the Federal government had allowed.

It had only been on January 23, 1964, thirteen years after its proposal and nearly 2 years after its passage by the US Senate, that the 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibiting the use of poll taxes in national elections, was ratified. The huge gap was that the amendment applied to national, not local, elections.

1964 Freedom Summer Riders

Civil Rights bill

A Civil Rights bill languished in Congress due to an 83-day filibuster by southern Senators until June 10, 1964 when  the Senate voted to limit further debate. On June 19 the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was approved. Voting for the bill were 46 Democrats and 27 Republicans. Voting against it were 21 Democrats and six Republicans. Except for Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, all the Democratic votes against the bill came from Southerners. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona voted against the bill, as he said he would. The five other Republicans opposing it all supported  Goldwater’s candidacy for the 1964 Republican Presidential nomination.

Andrew Goodman

The next day, June 20, 1964, the  first “Freedom Summer” volunteers arrived in Mississippi. Andrew “Andy” Goodman, 20, from New York City, was one of them. The next morning he sent a postcard home:

1964 Freedom Summer Riders

1964 Freedom Summer Riders

Freedom Summer

That same day, Andrew along with James E. Chaney, 21, and Michael Schwerner, 24, went to investigate the burning of a black church.

Police arrested the three on speeding charges, incarcerated them for several hours, and then released them after dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.

Two days later, the station wagon Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner were driving was found. Burned.

1964 Freedom Summer Riders

Other threats

Meanwhile, on June 24  thirty Freedom Summer workers from Greenville, Miss. made the first effort to register black voters in Drew, Miss., and local whites resisted with open hostility. Whites circled the workers in cars and trucks, some equipped with gun racks, making violent threats. One white man stopped his car and said, “I’ve got something here for you,” flaunting his gun.

Despite an intensive search, the bodies of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner were not found until August 4.

1964 Freedom Summer Riders

Freedom Schools

The Freedom Summer workers established 41 Freedom Schools attended by more than 3,000 young black students throughout the state. In addition to math, reading, and other traditional courses, students were also taught black history, the philosophy of the civil rights movement, and leadership skills that provided them with the intellectual and practical tools to carry on the struggle after the summer volunteers departed.

But, voter registration was the cornerstone of the summer project. Although approximately 17,000 black residents of Mississippi attempted to register to vote in the summer of 1964, only 1,600 of the completed applications were accepted by local registrars.

1964 Freedom Summer Riders


Three years later, on October 20, 1967 an all-white jury convicted seven conspirators related to the murders of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, including a deputy sheriff. The jury acquitted eight others. It was the first time a white jury had convicted a white official of civil rights killings. For three men, including Edgar Rice Killen, the trial ended in a hung jury, with the jurors deadlocked 11–1 in favor of conviction. The lone holdout said that she could not convict a preacher. The prosecution decided not to retry Killen and he was released.

None of the men found guilty would serve more than six years in prison.

See KKK Murders for expanded story of the Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner killings.

1964 Freedom Summer Riders
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