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The trouble at the Negro First Baptist Church erupted this evening when a crowd of white men, women and children began throwing stones through the windows as black civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King was speaking.
The attack is the latest in a string of violent incidents which have dogged the so-called Freedom Riders, a multi-racial group on a bus tour of the southern US states challenging racial segregation.
Three hundred federal marshals armed with teargas were called in by Attorney General Robert Kennedy to disperse tonight's angry mob.
Minutes later local police reinforcements arrived and baton-charged the crowd, which finally broke up.
In his address to the congregation, Dr King called for a massive campaign to end segregation in Alabama.
He said the state had demonstrated "the most inhuman form of oppression" and it was time to put a stop to it.
Dr King has returned to Montgomery to rally his supporters after being told of last night's attack on the Freedom Riders, when they arrived at the Greyhound bus depot in Montgomery.
A group of whites armed with clubs assaulted the riders as they got off the bus.
Federal marshals were called in to break up the violence after Justice Department official John Seigenthaler was beaten unconscious when he tried to help two Freedom Riders. Another white rider, Jim Zwerg, was also badly beaten.
Estimates of the number injured in yesterday's attack vary between 20 and 75.
The police were reportedly nowhere to be seen until the worst of the violence was over.
The trouble in Montgomery follows violence in Anniston when the Freedom Riders' bus was firebombed and Birmingham, Alabama, when the riders were thrown into jail.
Tonight, the Governor of Alabama, John Patterson, has appealed to residents to stay off the streets and to refrain from any acts of violence.
But he imposed the state of martial law only as a last resort. Earlier he threatened to arrest any marshal who tried to intervene in what he called local law enforcement.
Attorney General Mr Kennedy - brother of President John F Kennedy - said he sent in the marshals because he failed to receive an assurance from the governor that law and order could be maintained.
Governor Patterson has now requested the marshals to leave and take Dr King with them.
The Freedom Rides followed the successful Montgomery bus boycott in the mid 50s, which saw thousands of black Americans refuse to travel by bus for 13 months. The loss of revenue and a Supreme Court ruling finally forced the Montgomery Bus Company to desegregate.
But in many southern states segregation continued to operate.
Four days after the clashes outside the Baptist Church, the Freedom Riders were given armed protection as they marched into the "whites only" waiting room in Montgomery and bought tickets to take them to Jackson, Mississippi.
They were allowed to continue their journey through the deep south, escorted by the Alabama National Guard and Highway patrol officers.
But on arrival in Jackson, they were arrested and jailed for 60 days. More Freedom Riders travelled south to keep up the pressure and by the end of the summer about 300 had been arrested.
On 1 November 1961 their dreams were realised when the Interstate Commerce Commission, at the request of Robert Kennedy, issued rules prohibiting segregated travel on the buses.
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