NYPD Officer Who Saved MLK’s Life After 1958 Stabbing Dies At Age 93

Former NYPD Officer Al Howard died late October at the age of 93 after falling ill with coronavirus. Howard, longtime owner for Showman’s Jazz Club in Harlem, NYC, saved the life of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after a woman stabbed him in the chest

Howard recounted the incredible incident to his friend and a deputy NYPD commissioner, John Miller at age 91, after rumors about Howard’s action swirled around. The friend wanted to confirm the rumors to see if they were true. They were. 

On September 20, 1958, a 31-year-old Al Howard was driving a patrol car with a rookie he’d only met that day, Officer Philip Romano. Howard had been three years on the job. The two got a call over the radio about an incident at Blumstein’s department store in Harlem. 

When they arrived on the scene, they found King, 29-years-old at the time, sitting still in a chair on the second floor with a mail opener in his chest. A woman had stabbed the civil rights leader while he was signing copies of his book Stride Toward Freedom about the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. 

According to a report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, an advertising executive for The Amsterdam News, a notable Black newspaper, grabbed the woman who stabbed King and held her until a security officer took her. 

Another woman reached to take the blade out of King’s chest, fearing he might die, but Howard and Romano stopped her in time, knowing that the blade was probably keeping him alive. 

“In those days we didn’t have walkie-talkies,” Howard told Spring 3100, an internal Police Department magazine, in an interview years after. “The only radio we had was the one in the patrol car. We were entirely on our own, and believe me, it was some predicament.” 

In his retelling the story to Miller, Howard said he got to a telephone and called Harlem Hospital. A doctor told them to leave the blade in and that they’d send an ambulance. Howard noticed the growing crowd and asked the doctor to send the ambulance to the back of the store. 

From there the two officers created a diversion to get King to the hospital quickly and safely. 

Howard went to the front of the store where the crow was and announced that King would be coming through the front door, and asked for a path to be cleared. It worked, and Howard stayed out front, as if he was waiting for the ambulance. 

Meanwhile, Romano and others carried a still seated King to the ambulance via the back entrance onto 124th Street.

Doctors at Harlem Hospital saved King’s life, a miraculous feat after the blade had almost struck his aorta valve. 

Authorities arrested and charged Izola Ware Curry, a woman who experienced mental illness and believed King and others had been following her, with the stabbing. 

King spent weeks in NYC recovering from the incident. He reflected on the incident in a speech in Memphis, Tennessee the day before he was assassinated, “It came out in The New York Times the next morning that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died,” he remarked. “I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.” 

Howard reacted to the news of his assassination in 1968, ten years after the stabbing, with much of the sadness many around the nation and world did. He later retired, and became the owner of the Showman’s. 

This year, the renown club was forced to shut down amid the pandemic. He and his partner at Showman’s, Mona Lopez, flew to Las Vegas in September, and came down with what they thought was a cold but was actually COVID-19. He died several days later. 

A funeral was held October 27 in Queens, New York, limited in size due to social distancing guidelines. His grandson, Malik Howard, read from an obituary that listed several of his accomplishments, including his heroic efforts to save Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. 

Photos: Getty Images

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