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When a group of twenty-two Nashville area college students attempted to integrate the Montgomery, Alabama bus station on 20 May 1961, they were greeted by a violent mob that left the group broosed and bloody after nearly an hour of unrestrained attacks. Hearing of the attacks while in Chicago for a speaking engagement, Martin Luther King quickly returned to Montgomery to take part in a mass meeting to honor the Freedom Riders the next night at Ralph Abernathy's First Baptist Church. As the meeting began, an unruly crowd, held at bay by a small group of Federal marshalls, massed outside hurling rocks, bricks, and empty tear gas canisters threatening to storm the church. Even with the arrival of National Guardsmen, First Baptist remained beseiged until the early morning hours of 22 May.
Determined to continue their ride and test compliance with the Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregation in interstate travel, the students elected to continue. In this telegram, Edward B. King, executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, appeals to President Kennedy to use the "moral obligation" and "legal duty" of the country's executive office and urges him to "exercise firm and precise leadership" in this hour of turmoil.