Ozark celebrates MLK Day with parade and speech

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OZARK, Ala. (WTVY) -- It was standing room only at St. Mark A.M.E. Zion Church in Ozark Monday morning.

The community came out in full force to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"I'm marching because I believe in the dream of Martin Luther King,” said St. Mark A.M.E. Zion Church Rev. Boyd Fuller. “I'm marching because the change still needs to be happening, and the only way that change will happen is if we do the things that Martin Luther King wants us to do."

Reverend Boyd Fuller laced up his walking shoes to participate in the annual Martin Luther King Day Jr. Parade in Ozark.

While he had a clear idea of what he was walking for, some of the other participants weren't quite sure.

"(Why did you want to walk in the parade?) Because it's fun,” said Parade Walker Stephen Hudson Jr. “(Do you know what this parade is about?) No."

Regardless of what their inspiration for walking was, the destination was the same.

St. Mark A.M.E Zion Church, where a special guest speaker spoke about what Martin Luther King Jr. Day means to him.

"He was hired, March 30th, 1966,” said Former Birmingham Police Chief Johnnie Johnson. “I was hired March 31st, 1966, and we became the first two black officers."

En route to becoming Birmingham’s first black police chief, Johnnie Johnson missed being the first black police officer in the city by one day.

None-the-less, he had plenty to deal with when he first joined the force.

"We would walk over to that side of the wall, and all the other officers would walk over to this side of the wall,” said Johnson. “So, you'd check out your arm pit deal (laughs)."

While he's able to joke about it now, the sixties were a trying time for Johnson.

He told the crowd about partners that would never say a word to him during the whole shift.

Fortunately he stuck through it, and over the course of three decades, worked his way up to chief.

"When I became chief of police in Birmingham, we had 141 homicides,” said Johnson. “We were able to change that by changing our method of policing."

In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., Johnson held several non-violent marches and went door-to-door to engage with the community during his time as chief.

He concluded his speech by talking, or rather singing, about the importance of community for the development of children.

"(Singing) I found the greatest love of all inside of me."

Ozark Mayor Bob Bunting presented Johnson with a key to the city.