Tag Archives: 125th Street

Old New York In Postcards #15

Postcard Views of 125th Street – The Heart of Harlem 1905-1910

A dreamy view of 125th Street looking east from the elevated station circa 1910

A dreamy colored sky hangs over 125th Street looking east from 8th Avenue circa 1910

What was 125th Street like at the turn of the 20th century? It was the commercial center of a genteel neighborhood, the heart of Harlem. Restaurants, hotels, businesses and entertainment venues lined the prosperous street. 1900 census data shows the area was white with almost no blacks living around the surrounding streets. Residents around the area were primarily Jewish, Italian, German or WASP.

View of 125th Street looking west from 7th Avenue. The Hotel Winthrop is on the left the Harlem Opera House with finials atop its roof is on the right circa 1907.

View of 125th Street looking west from 7th Avenue. The Hotel Winthrop is on the left the Harlem Opera House with finials atop its roof is on the right circa 1907.

By 1910, things were changing and blacks now made up around 10 percent of Harlem’s population.  That gradual change occurred after real estate speculators built apartments when  the subway was being constructed between 1900 and 1904. The anticipated housing boom was a bust and these buildings were slow to fill with white tenants. A shrewd black real estate manager and developer Philip Payton Jr. was instrumental in changing the demographics of Harlem starting at 133rd Street and Lenox Avenue around 1905. Payton seized the opportunity in filling new and vacant buildings with black families. Soon other surrounding blocks were attracting black families.

Another view of 125th Street west of 7th Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.). Keith & Proctor's sign sits atop the vaudeville theater which was formerly The Harlem Opera House circa 1910.

Another view of 125th Street west of 7th Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.). Keith & Proctor’s sign sits atop the vaudeville theater which was formerly The Harlem Opera House circa 1910.

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The Woman Who Almost Killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Story Of Izola Ware Curry and The Stabbing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Arrest Ms Curry stabbed Martin Luther King 1958

Dr. Martin Luther King’s attacker being booked

As we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day we’ll recount a story many people are not familiar with.

It’s a forgotten story in which the Civil Rights movement narrowly escaped a crippling blow in 1958.  It’s also the story of the woman who tried to be an assassin and failed and is now very old, free, and living a mostly anonymous life here in New York City.

Ten years before being cut down by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came within a fraction of an inch of losing his life in an assassination attempt in New York City.

At 3:30 pm on September 20, 1958 Dr. King was in Harlem on the ground floor of  Blumstein’s Department store at 230 West 125th Street signing copies of his new book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. With about 20 people on line, a 42 year-old woman, Izola Ware Curry burst through the line, asking Dr. King if he was in fact Martin Luther King. When King affirmed he was, Curry said either “Why do you annoy me” or “I’ve been after you for six years,” and opened her purse, took out a letter opener, closed her eyes and suddenly plunged the steel blade into his left chest.

The stunned Dr. King remained seated in his chair with the blade buried deep into his chest. Curry tried to leave the store but was seized quickly by those standing near Dr. King and held for the police. It was later discovered Curry also had an automatic handgun hidden in her bra.

At the book signing there was no police protection for Dr. King and the first police officers who responded to the scene, Al Howard and Phil Romano, were nearby in their police car when they received a report of a disturbance at Blumstein’s. They arrived to see King sitting in a chair with the steel letter opener protruding from his chest. Officer Howard told King, “Don’t sneeze, don’t even speak.”

Officer’s Howard and Romano escorted Dr. King, still in the chair, down to an ambulance and rushed him to Harlem Hospital. After waiting for the proper surgical team to arrive to perform the delicate operation, the Chief of Surgery Aubre Maynard attempted to pull out the letter opener, but cut his glove on the blade. At 6:30 pm Dr. King underwent a two and a quarter hour operation. A surgical clamp was finally used to pull out the blade.

After the surgery Dr. King was listed in critical condition. He contracted pneumonia while convalescing, but recovered completely and was released from the hospital two weeks after the attack.

In his posthumously published autobiography King wrote, “Days later,when I was well enough to talk with Dr. Aubre Maynard, the chief of the surgeons who performed the delicate, dangerous operation, I learned the reason for the long delay that preceded surgery. He told me that the razor tip of the instrument had been touching my aorta and that my whole chest had to be opened to extract it. ‘If you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting,’ Dr. Maynard said, ‘your aorta would have been punctured and you would have drowned in your own blood.'” Continue reading