Freaknic's Wild Ride
It started out as good clean fun for black college students at HBCUs in the early ’80s. Then things went really, really wrong. Now it's making a comeback.
Freaknic. Mention the name of the famous-some would say infamous-Atlanta spring break festival to those who attended, and you get a myriad of responses. Some remember the early years of the 1980s, when students from HBCUs from throughout the Southeast could meet and fellowship during a four-day picnic. Others remember the ugliness that plagued the later years, when the city of Atlanta did all it could to discourage the festival. Either way, Sharon Toomer, one of the Freaknic founders, has seen it all.
"It all started back in 1982 as a way for DC students in the AUC [Atlanta University Center] to have a picnic for spring break," said Sharon Toomer, who was a Spelman College student and member of the DC Metro Club at the time.
"A lot of us couldn't afford to go back home to DC, so we decided to have a picnic in Atlanta."
And thus began the first Freaknic, which was held at Atlanta's Piedmont Park, with about fifty students attending from the historically black AUC, comprised of Morehouse College, Spelman College, Morris Brown College and what is now known as Clark Atlanta University.
The name Freaknic was suggested by a DC Metro club member as a way to tie into the popular 1980s term "freak," which was being used in hit songs like Funkadelic's "(Not Just) Knee Deep (Freak of the Week)" and Chic's disco hit, "Le Freak." Soon, students from HBCU schools as far flung as Tuskegee University in Alabama to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania were making their way to Atlanta to celebrate spring break.
And Freaknic filled a niche in the market, as most spring break destinations like Panama Beach, Daytona Beach, and Cancun, Mexico, were geared toward white college students. There wasn't an exclusive place for African-American students to blow off a bit of steam before returning to the rigors of school.