Rethinking African American Protest: Freaknik and the Civil Rights Legacy of Atlanta
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During the late 1980s and early 90s, Atlanta played host to the spring break festival Freaknik. A gathering of Historically Black College and University students and African American youth, Freaknik came to challenge the racial dynamics of a city that billed itself as “too busy to hate.” As black revelers cruised the streets, the congregation of up to 250,000 youth created major logistical problems for the city and forced the residents of the predominantly white neighborhoods of Piedmont Park and Midtown to examine the racial dynamics of Atlanta. These contested neighborhoods became hotbeds of protest, with many white residents viewing the actions of the fete participants as damaging to the neighborhoods. While many within Atlanta’s white community opposed the party, leaders of the black community condemned the actions of African American Mayor Bill Campbell and the white populace for restricting Freaknik, suggesting the actions of Freaknik opponents as racist and unnecessary. Utilizing Atlanta’s Civil Rights legacy, Freaknik participants not only confronted contested spaces of community within Atlanta, but also disputed the ownership of the Civil Rights movement. As the event grew and began to cast a pall over the economic well-being of Atlanta, chiefly its large convention industry, Mayor Campbell and members of the Atlanta City Council came to oppose the event. By challenging the regime politics and economic elites of Atlanta, Freaknik supporters, organizers, and participants came to be defeated by city leaders in a place that was largely viewed as a Black Mecca.