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

What happens at Freaknik stays at Freaknik.

a man in sunglasses and a hat has a sticker pinned to the hat that reads i freaked at atlanta freaknik 94
Marlene Karas / ASSOCIATED PRESS

William Stimms stands on Peachtree Street downtown with a sticker on his hat watching the crowds in Atlanta on April 23, 1994.

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.

two groups of people in cars exchange a camera in stopped traffic in atlanta
Rich Addicks / AP

Freaknik participants from New York pass along a video camera on Marietta Street near Peachtree on April 18, 1997: the first day of Freaknik.

three women photographed from behind with their hair styled, one is carrying a disposable camera
Jean Shifrin / AP

Women along Mitchell Street on April 19, 1997.

Left, a woman with Freaknik '96 painted on her face in glitter, and right, five women pose in front of art depicting tupac and other rappers
Eric Williams / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP; Jean Shifrin / AP

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.

three women pose in front of a car and a man takes a photo in the foreground
Jean Shifrin / AP

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.

a line of men dance on campus in the sunshine
Rich Addicks / AP

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.

Two people with cameras poke their heads out of the sunroof of a car at night, smiling for the camera
David Tulis / AP

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 a man in a car talking to a woman in a white dress outside his car window, right a policeman directing traffic as two people sit on the hood of their car in Atlanta
Jean Shifrin / AP; Marlene Karas / ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

A man selling t shirts out of the back of his car for Freaknik 97
Renee Hannans / AP

Gene Mosel selling T-shirts at Freaknik on April 19, 1997.

long lines of traffic with some people sitting on hoods of cars and others grouped on the street
Johnny Crawford / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Traffic congestion along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard during Freaknik in Atlanta on April 23, 1994.

people dance in a group on grass at a park with a large crowd watching
Johnny Crawford / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Freaknik celebrants enjoy the music, atmosphere, and the crowd at Piedmont Park in Atlanta on April 23, 1994.

a man hangs up t shirts for sale that read living large, for the brothers and louis farrakhan
Johnny Crawford / ASSOCIATED PRESS

A street vendor hangs T-shirts during Freaknik in Atlanta on April 23, 1994.

three women sit in the back of a car with the trunk open and videotape the scene, two other women are hanging out the windows
Jean Shifrin / AP

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.

four women in shorts sit on a bench and laugh with a uniformed policeman in the middle
Erik S. Lesser / AP

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.

A man hangs a welcome freaknik 96 flag from a balcony
Philip Mccollum / AP

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.