Freaknik Pt. 1

I posted a while back on the origins of one of America’s fondest snapshots of youth– Spring Break. I explored the history of what our country overwhelmingly considers the young adult’s version of the Spring Break experience. However, it is safe to say that just as individual taste varies, certain people will find that the beach-bodied party scene just isn’t their cup of tea. For those individuals, there are alternative options– some involving spending time with family, others involving travel to not-so-hot spots for volunteer work, or others involving nothing but the usual 9-5 grind.

In whatever form or fashion any one person experiences Spring Break, I was reminded recently that as I attempted to summarize the college-aged Spring Break experience, I overlooked an especially unique group that I share much in common with–as well as the influential history of their special Spring Break celebration in American culture.

I’m talking about the tale of the first Black Spring Break, and the story of Atlanta Georgia’s Freaknik.

The story of Freaknik begins in the year 1982, as little more than a small picnic near the Atlanta University Reading Center. The event, which was initially sponsored by the DC Metro Club was designed to provide a day of rest and relaxation near mid-terms for Atlanta University Center students. It also existed as an outlet for students who could not leave the city during Spring Break to relieve their stress by congregating and enjoy themselves.

In the following years, the event gained popularity. Initially, business grew for the city during the early Spring months– especially during the third weekend in April when what came to be known as the official “Freaknik” celebration kicked off. The festivities consisted of dancing, partying, drinking, and general youthful rowdiness. By the early nineties, however, Atlanta had begun to recognize the city-wide party as a potential threat to public safety. Although there were attempts each year to organize some type of controlled event, the sheer amount of under-aged party-goers and reckless public behavior lead to the city law enforcement being called to high alert every April. Traffic alone during the last week of April gridlocked the city and made it almost impossible for emergency vehicles to negotiate the city.

In 1992, the number of young people descending upon the city of Atlanta for Freaknik exceeded 200,000. Independent vendors sold t-shirts and paraphernalia commemorating the event. Community basketball games, private parties, and even a city-sponsored career fair came together in an effort to bring more organization and substance to the weekend of public lewdness. These efforts were defeated when scattered reports of sexual assault arose, accompanied by the open debasing and harassment of women in the street. Plenty of picture and video footage were captured by eager young people who arrived ready to document the sexuality of the scene.

In 1994, the Freaknik celebration reached an attendance of over 400,000 people. The Atlanta Police Department reacted by cracking down on delinquency and drastically increasing their presence. Road blocks were also erected to divert traffic towards the outskirts of the city.  The career fair and other organized activities were either flop or cancelled, and it became evident that visitors to Atlanta during the Freaknik season were in the city for no other reason than to party and have fun. At the same time, community-driven faux titles such as the “Freedom Festival”  and “Black Cultural Celebration” gave way to the underlying freakiness that had become synonymous with the word “Freaknik.”

After the Olympics came to Atlanta in the summer of 1996, city officials decided that Freaknik had to go. The next three years lead to a more and more frustrating experience for anxious partygoers during the month of April. The city of Atlanta began requiring permits and extensive paperwork for promoters attempting to fuel the celebration. The police department also showed in full force that it would not stand for reckless behavior in the city streets. Once again, roadblocks turned traffic into the city more of a hassle than a necessary evil for its youthful visitors. As a result, numbers–especially those of the female population–dwindled. College students opted to travel outside of the city to locations in Florida and Texas where events hosted by popular black Greek organizations thrived.

In 1999, the Freaknik party monster met its demise. Attendance was low and city officials were on high alert. According to some witnesses, the year’s Freaknik was dubbed a “Freak-not.”

Below is video footage of Freaknik in both the late and early nineties. They provide two separate snapshots of Atlanta during the third week of April–one from a spectators point of a view and the other from the street-level experience.

Today’s Black Spring Break is not far removed from its majority counterpart. Celebrations across the country and along the sandy beaches of the world’s most famous hot-spots provide equal opportunity for the liberated lifestyle that so many young people wish to visit during the weeks of early Spring. However, the unique history of Freaknik is one that defines a point in time when Americas Black youth let their freaky side show to a extent that turned Atlanta, Georgia into the one and only place to be during the third week of April, and gave birth to the drunken legend known as a “Freaknik.”

Will the spirit of Freaknik ever be resurrected?


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