Cardozo HS hoops coach’s father once helped save Martin Luther King Jr.’s life

Thoracic surgeon Emil Naclerio rose to the occasion to rescue Martin Luther King Jr. the day he was stabbed at a Harlem book signing.
By Mark Hallum

Ron Naclerio, a coach for Cardozo High School’s basketball team, tweeted out a letter on Martin Luther King Jr. Day memorializing his father’s role as the surgeon who intervened in a near-death experience by the Civil Rights activist.

At a 1958 book signing in Harlem, King was stabbed with a letter opener by Izola Ware Curry, a black woman who would go on to spend the next half century in a series of institutions.

The blade lodged itself near King’s aorta and required a delicate surgery to extricate.

The surgeon was Emil Naclerio, Ron Naclerio’s father.

King wrote a personal letter to Naclerio thanking him for “preserving” his life.

“Your skilled surgery, coupled with your genuine concern for me as a patient, combined to bring me from a very low ebb in my life to blooming health again,” the letter said. “Please know that I will always remember your gestures of goodwill so long as the cords of my memory shall lengthen.”

King later said he bore no animosity to Curry, who died in 2015 at 98, for the assault.

The younger Naclerio said his father, as a thoracic surgeon, not only saved King in his lifetime, but was also helped pioneer the method for installing pace makers.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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