There’s No Party Like Freaknik: Photos Of Atlanta’s Favorite Street Party

What happens at Freaknik stays at Freaknik.

If you grew up in Atlanta, then you have heard of Freaknik. Originally spelled as Freaknic, it was conceived in 1982 as an end-of-year party for students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). It became so popular that it turned into an annual event, was renamed, and HBCU students and non-students from all over the country started to flock to Atlanta in the spring to dance, have fun, and build community within the largely white spring break party scene.

Johnny Crawford is a photographer who worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 28 years, starting in 1985. He went to Morehouse College in Atlanta and was able to photograph some of history’s biggest names and events during his nearly three-decade stint at the paper, from Nelson Mandela to the Olympics. He also photographed Freaknik for two years in the 1990s.

“Freaknic wasn’t a big deal to me because I came from Atlanta University Center, where it started from,” he told us over the phone. “Most of the time, the students were just trying to have fun without going to Daytona Beach. They had a step show at Piedmont Park, playing loud music and dancing.”

Freaknik turned what was essentially a block party into an infamous street festival and a moment in culture. Despite the carefree nature of Freaknik, “there were certain views of Black kids in the South,” Crawford said, that eventually led to friction between the largely Black attendees and the surrounding white neighborhoods. During his second year photographing the festival for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Crawford recalled the new city editor telling him, “‘You need to be ready to photograph the kids getting locked up.’”

“I said, ‘Why? It’s a bunch of kids partying and dancing in the street,’ which clogged the traffic, but as far as kids doing anything crazy, that wasn’t a problem,” Crawford said.

Freaknik eventually stopped in 1999, with the city citing traffic problems. But it has remained a cultural moment that people remember fondly. The festival returned in 2019, and you can still find a few of the amazing T-shirts on eBay. We looked back at some photos of Freaknik in its heyday.

Freaknik participants from New York pass along a video camera on Marietta Street near Peachtree on April 18, 1997: the first day of Freaknik.
Women along Mitchell Street on April 19, 1997.
Left, Misty Coleman from Cincinnati, Ohio, sports the words Freaknik ’96 in colorful face paint on her cheeks at Underground Atlanta on April 19, 1996. Right, posing in front of a painted backdrop at Piedmont Park on April 20, 1997, are, from left, back row: Marie Winston, Melinda Pierson, and Miesha Duncan. Front row from left: Anita Barron and Nicole Washington. The five women flew to Atlanta from San Francisco to attend Freaknik.
Posing for a polaroid along Lee Street are, from left, Missy Moore, 16; Shaune’ Leonard, 20; and Toia Williams, 20. All three are from Hammond, Indiana. Gordon Green is the photographer. Shown on April 19, 1997.
Members of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity from various school chapters do some strolling on April 18, 1997, at the Atlanta Universities campus on the first day of Freaknik.
Natasha McIntyre (left), 20, from Newark, New Jersey, smiles for a photo while her friend Hasana Muhammad, 21, of Atlanta, uses binoculars to spot eligible Freaknikers during their drive down Spring Street near the American Hotel as the spontaneous party continues into the wee hours on April 19, 1997.
Left, Shantrice Billingslea talks to some men in the parking lot of South DeKalb Mall on April 18, 1998. Right, open container violations were not enforced during the Freaknik celebration as partygoers drove down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in downtown Atlanta on April 23, 1994, while a security officer directed traffic.
Gene Mosel selling T-shirts at Freaknik on April 19, 1997.
Traffic congestion along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard during Freaknik in Atlanta on April 23, 1994.
Freaknik celebrants enjoy the music, atmosphere, and the crowd at Piedmont Park in Atlanta on April 23, 1994.
A street vendor hangs T-shirts during Freaknik in Atlanta on April 23, 1994.
The back of a minivan provides a good videotaping spot for these women from Missouri who were cruising the parking lot at Lenox Square on April 20, 1997, during Freaknik.
Atlanta Police Officer Lorenzo Lockett chuckles while talking with Freaknik attendees at Hartsfield Airport. From left are Bonita Benson, 26; Doris Jones, 26; Edna Lovelace, 23; and Cathy Byrd, 24, all from Philadelphia. Lockett was telling the women where to go to find good soul food.
Bob Whitehead, who owns Flowers by The Vineyard near the Atlanta University Center, puts out his welcome sign as he enjoys the visits of the weekend Freaknik students in April 1996.

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