Failed assassination attempt
The chief surgeon attends Dr. King after his operation.
The Virginia Gazette, James City, March 9, 2013
By David George Ball

When I gave a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in January, I described how I had invited him to speak at Yale in the fall of 1958. Just before he was due to arrive he had published a memoir. While he was signing his book at a Harlem department store on Sept. 20, 1958, an African American Woman stabbed him in the chest, one quarter of an inch from his heart. He almost died. They rushed him to Harlem Hospital where a brilliant surgeon saved his life. He postponed his visit to Yale until January 1959, and eventually he was my guest for three days.

One of the men in the audience at Ebenezer Baptist Church was Al Cohen, who is producing a documentary about the events leading up to and following the stabbing. The title of his film is “When Harlem Saved a King.” A few days after hearing my story in Atlanta, Cohen invited me to come to New York for a filmed interview at Harlem Hospital and a book signing at Sylvia’s Restaurant. On Feb. 28 as I scrambled down the stairs from the 125th Street train station I expected someone from the production company staff to give me a ride to their office. No one was there. I couldn’t call the office on my cell phone because the number was in my suitcase. After walking nervously back and forth on 125th Street for a few minutes I placed my suitcase on the sidewalk near an attentive police officer and retrieved the phone number. Fortunately, just at that moment the driver and the car arrived. Once we reached the office of the production company on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard I discovered that Harlem Hospital wasn’t available that day and Cohen was looking for another venue. I didn’t know what would happen. Apparently the book signing was going ahead as planned.       
Haunted by uncertainty I arrived at Sylvia’s Restaurant on Lennox Avenue. Sylvia’s is a Harlem landmark famous for its soul food. As a crowd gathered for my speech I began to cheer up. In the crowd I was relieved to see the friendly face of my Yale classmate David Holbrook. After the book signing he agreed to provide a place for the interview the next day at his townhouse in the East Village. Cohen was grateful and set a time to meet.

A studio in the townhouse offered perfect light for filming and the interview went well. My classmate had saved the day. Watch for the documentary “When Harlem Saved a King” on NBC in July.

David George Ball of James City received his bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1960 and his law degree from Columbia University in 1964. He served as assistant secretary of Labor 1989-93. His book detailing Dr. King’s visit to Yale, “A Marked Heart,” is available at the Bruton Parish Shop.