Atlanta: Freaknik 83-99

Featuring excerpts from Freaknik: The Rise and Fall of Atlanta’s most infamous street party

July 2015

"It all started in the spring of 1983 with a picnic organized by students attending the Atlanta University Center. As at other historically black colleges and universities, AUC was home to “state clubs” made up of students with common home states. The clubs held social events during the school year and served as pre-Facebook clearinghouses for shared rides home. That spring, members of the DC Metro club threw a picnic in Piedmont Park for students who found themselves stuck on campus over spring break. It was a simple event—sandwiches, coolers, boom boxes, that sort of thing, recalls Sharon Toomer, then a Spelman College freshman and one of the organizers. “A lot of us came by bus; no one had cars back then,” she says of the gathering in the field at the corner of 10th Street and Monroe Drive. In those days, Piedmont Park was shabby, the picnic area little more than a vacant lot."

Excerpt from Freaknik: The rise and fall of Atlanta’s most infamous street party 

Sharon Toomer: It was a student named Rico Brown who suggested, "Let's call it Freaknic," putting together picnic and freak.


"Over the years, the spelling morphed into Freaknik and the event's timing shifted from spring break -- usually in early March -- to the "reading week"period before final exams, generally the third week in April."

"Growing up in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, where mainstream white middle-class culture pervades, the only understanding you had of college spring break came through a white filter," recalls Ayanna Brown. 

"Then came Freaknik 1993. That April, 100,000 students converged on the city - triple the number predicted by police chief Eldrin Bell. Gridlocked stretched from Cascade to Collier Road."

Ayanna Brown: By 1995, you had the airport locked up. People were coming from everywhere. So the tone of Freaknik started to change. I can remember seeing middle-aged men in their cars and thinking, "Why are you out here?"

As complaints about rowdy behavior raged, then - city council member and mayoral candidate Bill Campbell defended the college kids, saying students he observed were "as innocent as those in Beach Blanket Bingo."

"By 1999, crowds dwindled to around 50,000 -- a shadow of Freaknik's former glory. And the police pressure stepped up, with 350 arrests and thousands of citations issued. By 2000, Freaknik had fizzled, and students went to Galveston and Daytona Beach."