Director of Surgery at Harlem Hospital, Aubré Maynard successfully operated on Martin Luther King, Jr., following the civil rights leader’s 1958 stabbing at a Harlem department store.
Born in Georgetown, Guyana, Maynard and his family immigrated to New York City in 1906. He received his BA from the City College of New York in 1922, and enrolled in New York University Medical School after being told that the teaching hospitals associated with his first choice, Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, had objections to black doctors having patient contact. Maynard earned his MD in 1926, and became one of the first black interns at Harlem Hospital that year. In 1951 he was president of the Harlem Surgical Society, and in 1952 he was promoted to director of surgery at Harlem Hospital.
On the afternoon of 20 September 1958, King was rushed to Harlem Hospital after being stabbed with a letter opener by Izola Curry. With the blade positioned perilously close to King’s aorta, the hospital staff determined that, “had Dr. King sneezed or coughed the weapon would have penetrated the aorta.… He was just a sneeze away from death” (Papers 4:499n). While New York's Governor W. Averell Harriman waited outside and notable city surgeons looked on from an elevated platform, Maynard successfully removed the blade from King's chest. Ten days after the surgery, King released a statement in which he expressed his gratitude to Maynard and his staff. In the months following the operation, Maynard continued to monitor King's recovery, and declared the civil rights leader fully recovered after an examination on 16 January 1959.
When King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Maynard sent him a congratulatory telegram extolling the leader’s achievements: “You fully merit the distinguished honor of the Nobel Prize for Peace” (Maynard, 15 October 1964).
Maynard retired from Harlem Hospital in 1967, and the hospital’s cardiac operating suite was named in his honor in 1972. His book, Surgeons to the Poor: The Harlem Hospital Story, includes an account of the events surrounding King’s stabbing.
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to King, 21 September 1958, in Papers 4:498–499.
King, Statement Issued from Harlem Hospital, 30 September 1958, in Papers 4:502.
King to Maynard, 6 January 1959, in Papers 5:101–102.
Maynard, Surgeons to the Poor, 1978.
Maynard to King, 15 October 1964, MLKJP-GAMK.
Pearson, When Harlem Nearly Killed King, 2002.