"Hey Mom. I'm going to Atlanta this weekend."
"Ok. What's going on in Atlanta?"
"I'm going to Freaknik."
"Huh? What the hell is a Freaknik?"
a conversation between me and my mom (April 1994)
Truth be told...I didn't know the answer. It was something that I had heard about. I was a college sophomore at South Carolina State University...a 3.5 hr drive from Atlanta. The buzz on campus was that Freaknik was the spot where black kids from other black colleges came to hang out. It was supposed to be this one big party in Atlanta. The Black College version of Woodstock...is how it was described to me. I wasn't sure what it was but I was determined to see for myself. It had been a long semester and we had just finished Spring Practice for football. Our final exams were just a few weeks away and I needed to blow off some steam.
This would not be my first trip to Hot-Lanta. I visited a few times as a kid. My family drove down to Atlanta from my hometown, Florence, SC to see a football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Giants. At the time my uncle, Harry Carson, was playing for the Giants so we got a chance to see him play relatively close to home. I found Atlanta to be a nice city but it was scary for kids. One year we came to see a preseason game in the early 80s. This was at the height of the Wayne Williams drama. We couldn't go outside without an adult. I remember how cautious my parents were and they didn't want to let us out of their sights. Looking back on it now...I understand. Nonetheless, I had never experienced Atlanta as a young adult. At the time the city was bubbling. There was a burgeoning hip hop scene there. And the city would host the Olympics in 2 years. Sounds like a perfect place to party, right?
One of the first things that I noticed that there were a lot of black people in powerful positions. The city was virtually run by black people. That impressed me. Anybody who knows me knows that I'm about my people. When I saw that, I was hooked. Atlanta always struck me as a place that was fast...especially for the south...but not as fast as New York City.
I remember parking the car near Fulton County Stadium (now Turner Field where the Braves play) and me and the crew began to walk. We walked down Piedmont Rd as we were headed to Piedmont Park for a free concert. I had no idea just how far that was. Me and my boys walked...and walked...and walked. The cool thing about this trek...we weren't the only ones. With so many streets being blocked off, you had to walk. I remember making a detour down Auburn Avenue and all I saw was a sea of black people! The city officials said that Freaknik drew 250,000 students that year. Well...they were wrong. There was EASILY 500,000 people in the ATL that weekend. There had to be 100,000 people on Auburn Avenue that day. It's fitting that we were all on Auburn Ave considering it's history! So many people...and it was ALL love. It didn't matter where you were from. If you were young and black, you felt like you were at home. There was a performance on a stage in on the street. Some young dudes from Atlanta who went by the name of OutKast. They didn't even have an album out but they were killin the crowd! We saw celebrities and athletes who seemed to be just enjoying the atmosphere. I remember being on one side of the street and watching a young Snoop Doggy Dogg roll up some weed with an Atlanta cop standing 10 feet away from him! And the cop didn't say a word.
"Want a cheap trick? Betta go down to Freaknik!!" - Lil Kim (Crush on You)
One thing that I learned very quickly was that freaked me was just one big ass party! No matter where you were, A party could break out at any moment. For example, we were stuck in traffic in the SWATs on Campbellton Road. Traffic was at a standstill. Out of nowhere, somebody turned on some music at a liquor store in the parking lot. And from that moment on a party started! Everybody got out of their cars and just started dancing. People were exchanging phone numbers and getting to know each other. We stayed in that one spot for at least 30 minutes! And nobody seemed to care at all! LOL! It wasn't just the residents from Atlanta. It seemed like there was somebody from nearly every state.
One of the biggest appeals to a young man like myself was...well...the women. When I hit Freaknik that spring, I was single. I had not met my future wife yet and I was fresh out of one of my many, ill fated 3 month relationships. For me, coming to Freaknik was like therapy. I don't think I've ever been around that many beautiful black women. I must have fallen in love (at first sight) 20 times that weekend. LOL. The women were really cool and everybody was just looking to have a good time. Freaknik, for at least this year, didn't consist primarily of women doing crazy and sleezy stuff on the street. It was a cool vibe. Young black college kids from all across the country were on one big cool vibe. Everybody's experience with Freaknik was different. I enjoyed the whole weekend. Were there people trying to hook up with each other? Of course. But I just enjoyed the vibe. It was at Freaknik that I heard one of the dumbest and corniest pick up lines that I've ever heard...
We were all waiting in line to get some doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. There were 3 fine women in front of me. A dude approached the 3 women. He turned to one of them and said...
"I see that you're wearing a DKNY (which stands for Donna Karan New York) shirt. Do you know those letters represent four of my favorite colleges?" She looked puzzled. At this moment, he probably should have walked away but he was determined to impress her.
Wait...did he just say Y-oming...and not Wyoming?? I laughed sooooooo hard until I couldn't breathe.
Freaknik was filled with moments like that. Good times. Great laughs. Great music. I would attend Freaknik for the next 3 years. But it wouldn't be the same. The vibe gave way to ratchet women and some locals who saw an opportunity to cause trouble. City officials deemed it a "traffic nightmare" and found ways to shut it down and discourage people from coming to the city for the event.
Looking back on the conversation that me and my mom had...I'm not sure if I STILL know what Freaknik was. It was a party. It was a vibe. It was a movement. It introduced me to a girl named Atlanta that I fell in love with. I still get that rush when I walk through Piedmont Park today...just as I did that weekend.