Harrison County

Biloxi’s MLK Parade caps weekend full of controversy

A party atmosphere prevailed Monday at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in Biloxi, with temperatures in the 70s, beads and candy flying through the air and a victory at City Hall.

That victory came just 20 minutes before the parade rolled, when the Biloxi City Council voted to officially change the name of the holiday in its city ordinances from “Great Americans Day” to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“I just left the meeting,” said Sandra Higgins of Biloxi.

Since Friday, when Twitter and Facebook posts went out calling Monday's celebration “Great Americans Day,” the city has been ridiculed nationwide in news coverage and on social media.

While that was negative, “It's still a very good day because of what happened today,” Higgins said. “It affected history from here on out.”

The only cloud over the day was that there was no Battle of the Bands scheduled this year.

“I came from school hoping to see them,” said Alexis Higgins, a student at University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

Instead, a gathering was planned at Busch Park following the parade.

The Coast-wide Martin Luther King Jr. Committee organized the parade and a week of events to commemorate King's birthday.

“It's a special day today just in remembering him and his leadership and the sacrifice he made for us,” said Cynthia Cunningham of Hattiesburg.

Although the crowd lining the street was predominately black, more white families were seen along the parade route this year than in the past.

Former Biloxi Councilman Ed Gemmill attended, as he does every year.

“I come to watch the talent and listen to the music,” he said. The bands that play at the MLK Parade are some of the best at any parade in South Mississippi, he said.

St. Augustine High School Band from New Orleans thundered by, with its high-stepping drum majors and purple and yellow uniforms, showing why they are called the “Marching 100.” Before and after them came more bands, dancers, church floats and the Tuskegee Airmen.

It was the first MLK Parade for Jahniya Richardson, 2, of Gulfport.

“The band, the beads and the candy was her favorite part,” said Linda Bolton of Long Beach.

Tishonna Bennett of Hattiesburg was with them in Biloxi, cheering on her daughters, ages 14 and 15, as they danced in the parade.

“I love to see them getting out and doing something positive,” she said.