The stabbing of Dr. King: New documentary delves into Izola Curry mystery l the Grio

The stabbing of Dr. King: New documentary delves into Izola Curry mystery

When Harlem Save A King — Intro from BACKTRACK films on Vimeo.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is regarded as one of the most prominent faces of the Civil Rights Movement, hailed for his triumphs and sacrifices throughout the 1950s. And while his legacy has lived on today, many do not know that Dr. King was almost assassinated several years prior to his rise as the most iconic and celebrated Civil Rights leader.

In September 1958, Dr. King was an emerging activist who was hosting a book signing for his book, “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story” at Blumstein Department Store in Harlem, New York.  While signing books, Dr. King was approached by a 42-year-old black woman, Izola Ware Curry, who asked if he was really Martin Luther King Jr. After responding yes, witnesses say Curry promptly took a letter opener out of her purse, closed her eyes and plunged it into Dr. King’s chest.

With the help of local police officers, first responders and the Harlem Hospital surgical team, Dr. King fortunately survived the stabbing, but doctors said because the opener grazed the surface of his aorta, if she had stabbed harder or if someone removed the object improperly, he probably would have drowned in his own blood.

“If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had. If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama to see the great movement there,” Dr. King famously said ten years after the incident in his last speech, ”I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

While local media reported Dr. King’s attempted assassination in the following weeks, the story did not become national news because he was not a prominent public figure at the time.

But mystery remains surrounding attacker Izola Curry. Who was she? What happened to her? And why did this woman attempt to kill one of the greatest civil rights leaders?

Two filmmakers claim that their upcoming documentary, When Harlem Saved A Kingwill answer all of these questions and also shed light into Curry’s life, who has remained, as of now, virtually unknown to the public.

“Everybody is fascinated with this story about Dr. Martin Luther King. Everything you hear about him is from history books, but this puts a different spin on Dr. Martin Luther King’s rise to fame and it’s absolutely true,” says executive producer Wayne Davis in an interview with theGrio.

While the mystery behind Curry is alluring to historians and the public alike, both the director, Al Cohen, and Davis, say their film will also pay homage to the “unsung heroes” from the Harlem community who helped save Dr. King’s life.

“Harlem was never given a badge of honor as it relates assisting in the Civil Rights Movement. This particular project that we’re doing helps bring that shade to the Harlem community. We can stand up tall and realize that we had a very major impact in the Civil Rights Movement,” said director Al Cohen in the interview.

The two Harlem natives have spent the past several years researching and tracking down firsthand sources and information to figure out what happened to Curry and community members who played a role in saving Dr. King.

“The objective of When Harlem Saved a King is to unravel mysteries, expose secrets and misconceptions; and answer unanswered questions. The pieces of this untold story will be woven into a compelling 60 minutes through the creative integration of eye-opening interviews [with firsthand witnesses],” according to the documentary’s website.

After the stabbing incident, Curry was taken into custody and was found to be incompetent to stand trial for assault charges. She was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for the criminally insane according to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.

Although the media portrayed Curry as a deranged woman with no real motive to kill Dr. King, both Cohen and Davis say that they have compelling evidence that Curry may have been part of a larger conspiracy to thwart the impending Civil Rights Movement.

“I think people will find an ironic twist about [the story]. Many said she was deranged woman, but it could possibly something bigger than that, a bigger conspiracy,” says Cohen. “It’s not just a crazy woman who got in an argument against [Dr. King] and just wanted to defend herself. It was more calculated than that.”

“For a deranged woman who acted solo, why was a lot of money in the south raised for her defense?” adds Davis. “That’s all I want to say. You will find out in the documentary what happened to her.”

Additionally, there are no records indicating Curry died at the mental institution and if she is still alive, she would be 96 years old today. Cohen and Davis say that the documentary will be groundbreaking because it will reveal what happened to Curry and if they were able to locate her.

“Nobody was ever able to get to [Izola Curry]. We have no information or any interviews or any leads about this woman, [except] the things we have found,” explains Cohen. “There is nobody out there that anybody has spoken to her outside of what we have found.”

The two filmmakers promoted their documentary throughout Black History Month to shed light onto a part of African-American history that has almost been forgotten. Just last week, the two hosted a screening of the trailer at Harlem Hospital.

“If Dr. King had died, would we be here talking with you today? We don’t know!” says Davis. “Maybe [the Civil Rights Movement] wouldn’t have progressed as soon as it did. Maybe it wouldn’t have progressed at all.”

The two filmmakers say that they are currently finishing the film’s production and they hope to premiere the documentary at the end of July.

Click here to watch the trailer.

Follow Brittany Tom on Twitter @brittanyrtom

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OCG Black History Note l “Mighty Times: The Children’s March”

“Mighty Times: The Children’s March”

“Mighty Times: The Children’s March” reveals a never-before-told chapter in the Civil Rights movement, focusing on more than 4,000 black schoolchildren who deserted classrooms in Birmingham, AL, on May 2, 1963, touching off a week of mass demonstrations and rioting that shocked the nation and rocked the world. On May 2, 1963, the children of Birmingham, AL, flooded the city’s streets — and the city’s jail — to challenge segregation. With dogs and fire hoses, police tried to stop them. Yet, in ways their parents could not, the children prevailed, defying the police intimidation that long had plagued Birmingham’s black community.

Ella Baker and the Limits of Charismatic Masculinity l Black Agenda Report

Ella Baker and the Limits of Charismatic Masculinity

 Pascal Robert

Tue, 02/19/2013

by Pascal Robert

Ella Baker, the consummate organizer, “was very critical of the hot shot Black preachers who would seem to mesmerize their audience with soaring oratory, then leave and expect others to implement an agenda.” She put forward a grassroots critique of overwhelmingly male Black leadership, and showed “more wisdom, courage, and vision then almost all of them.”

Ella Baker and the Limits of Charismatic Masculinity

by Pascal Robert

This article originally appeared on Mr. Robert’s website, Thought Merchant.

She believed in giving people the power to choose their direction and make demands.”

In perhaps one of the most important biographies of a civil rights leader published, Professor Barbara Ransby has conveyed the epic life and struggle of a woman whose sheer skill, leadership, and ability to mobilize the marginalized and dispossessed to full participation in their fight for human dignity is almost unprecedented in American history. In her book, Ella Baker & The Black Freedom Movement, Professor Ransby documents the life of Ella Baker, a Black woman born to a middle class family in North Carolina in 1903 who, after witnessing the staunch spiritually based dedication of her mother to serving the poor in the South, transforms into a sheer force of will that worked with all the major civil rights organizations of her time, and helped mobilize to create two of the most crucial to the Civil Rights Movement: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Before we continue to heap praise or Hosannas on men like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Wyatt T. Walker, Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, Paul Robeson, Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. DuBois, or any of these other gentlemen we idolize as embodiments of masculine heroism, we should know about one woman, of many, who had more wisdom, courage, and vision then almost all of them: Ms. Ella Baker.

Baker believed in empowering the most common person, whether a sharecropper, teenager, or illiterate vagrant with skills to make demands on the political establishment.”

What made Baker’s method of organizing both effective and revolutionary is that it completely dismissed the traditional paradigm of leadership that had plagued the Black community from its earliest history in North America, stemming mostly from the Black Church: charismatic masculine leadership based on oratory and exhibitionism. Baker believed in empowering the most common person, whether a sharecropper, teenager, or illiterate vagrant with skills to make demands on the political establishment. Baker believed that people did not need fancy leaders with degrees and pedigree to tell them what was best for them. She believed in giving people the power to choose their direction and make demands, and put pressure on institutions without depending on big shots with fancy suits. In her book Professor Ransby notes:

At every opportunity [Ella] Baker reiterated the radical idea that educated elites were not the natural leaders of Black people. Critically reflecting on her work with the NAACP, she observed, “The Leadership was all from the professional class, basically. I think these are the factors that have kept it [the NAACP] from moving to a more militant position.”

Moreover, Ella Baker was very critical of the hot shot Black preachers who would seem to mesmerize their audience with soaring oratory then leave and expect others to implement an agenda. As Ransby further notes at one point Ella Baker asked Dr. King directly “…why he allowed such hero worship, and he responded simply, that it was what people wanted. This answer did not satisfy Baker in the least.”

Ella Baker did not mince words on her thoughts of Dr. King’s leadership style and vocally spoke out on its limitations:

Baker described [Dr. King] as a pampered member of Atlanta’s black elite who had the mantle of leadership handed to him rather than having had to earn it, a member of a coddled ‘silver spoon brigade.’ He wore silk suits and spoke with a silver tongue.

…In Baker’s eyes King did not identify enough with the people he sought to lead. He did not situate himself among them but remained above them.

“…Baker felt the focus on King drained the masses of confidence in themselves. People often marveled at the things King could do that they could not; his eloquent speeches overwhelmed as well as inspired.”

Obama has been as anemic in delivering real change and effective at stifling progress as Ella Baker worried Dr. King would have been.”

The limitations of this charismatic masculinity noted by Ella Baker are profound, particularly in today’s political age when we have a president like Barack Obama who often tries to channel the traditions of charismatic leadership and oratory from the Black tradition. Ironically, Obama has been as anemic in delivering real change and effective at stifling progress as Ella Baker worried Dr. King would have been. So perhaps in a strange twist, we have found a similarity between King and Obama after all.

Often in America, when discussing prominent Black trailblazers who fought the injustices of segregation and racial oppression, we see the same images of a variety of men. I somewhat jokingly call them our superhero black male icons. This phenomenon mimics the more noxious western patriarchal fascination with viewing history as a series of events being shaped and guided by the hands of a strong capable man embodying all our fantasies about leadership, masculinity, and sometimes fatherhood.

The danger of such imagery is that it often both obscures and denies the scope of nuanced factors, issues, and circumstances in shaping the events from which our societies were born. Furthermore, such narratives often exclude any consideration of female agency in effecting the great events that have transpired over time.

Barbara Ransby should be applauded for putting a halt to this tradition and setting the record straight with her towering biography Ella Baker & The Black Freedom Movement. As a man still troubled with patriarchal sexist notions, this book opened my eyes to ways in which the roles of women are often neglected and intentionally obscured. Let us all read the story of Ella Baker and make sure such injustices do not continue.

Pascal Robert is an Iconoclastic Haitian American Lawyer, Blogger, and Online Activist for Haiti. For years his work appeared under the Blog Thought Merchant: http://thoughtmerchant.wordpress.com/ You can also find his work on the Huffington Post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pascal-robert/ He can be reached via twitter at: https://twitter.com/probert06 @probert06 or thoughtmerchant@gmail.com

 

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Celebrating the ‘complete’ Martin Luther King Jr.; unfinished work and all l Dr. Blair L.M. Kelley

Celebrating the ‘complete’ Martin Luther King Jr.; unfinished work and all

by Blair L. M. Kelley

Blair L. M. Kelley is an associate professor at North Carolina State University. Follow her on Twitter at @ProfBLMKelley

My 9-year old daughter came home this week raving about her class and their discussion of Martin Luther King, Jr.

She declared that she loved learning about his life and that she was thankful to him because without King, no change would have been possible in America on the question of race. I am a historian of African-American history specializing in social movements, so I quickly moved to correct her. Of course change would have happened, even if King had never lived! I described to her other leaders. I reminded her that movements don’t function because of just one great man. I told her that King was not a perfect person, and that even he had come short of meeting all his goals. In the end, I even resorted to reminding her that I wrote a book on a movement that took place 35 years before King was even born.

Clearly my daughter didn’t care. She insisted that her school would not be integrated, and that her whole world would not have been the same without King’s leadership.

After thinking about it for a while, I realized that most people feel the same way about King that my daughter does. King has become the single greatest icon of the civil rights movement—his words are studied, his great marches are remembered, his name marks our boulevards; his shadow, now literally cast in stone, looms large on our national consciousness. He has become the benchmark for great leadership, so much so that nearly every leader that has emerged after him is compared to him, and found wanting.

As an icon, King is often thought of as flawless, so that we rarely reflect on his failures as a movement leader. Our collective memory of King only touches on the high points. The images we remember are the moments of his greatest triumphs as a leader: the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1963 March on Washington, the Birmingham Campaign that same year, and the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. Each of these efforts resulted in positive change, clear victories in the courts or in the halls of Congress.

We tend not to remember the moments when King faltered or searched for the right direction. We don’t recall the indecision about what to do next after the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott; the challenge of the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement campaign, or his unfulfilled Poor People’s Campaign — cut short by his tragic assassination in 1968. These moments are forgotten when King is not remembered in his broader context.