The most important person in yesterday’s MLK parade was also the last. A man named Pernell had the unenviable job of cleaning up after the horses, who, not coincidentally, are usually next to last in the parade.

Pernell is an incredibly nice and good-humored guy, someone who does the unseen work most of us take for granted. He works at a local funeral home cleaning the hearses and the building. And he cleans up after horses, this time a half-dozen Tennessee Walkers owned by members of the Friendship Saddle Club, an association of black trail riders based in Kittrell, N.C.

After shoveling the first load of manure into a trash can, he lit a cigarette.

“I hope you don’t mind me smoking,” he said.

“Not at all,” I replied, pointing at the trash can. “It smells better than that.”

Pernell was among hundreds of people “backstage” at the parade, so to speak. Bands rehearse their music, parade queens try to keep their clothes clean and kids blow off steam before having to march in formation.

You can view a slideshow, of scenes behind the parade, accompanied by part of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.”