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A look back at Freaknik, Atlanta's iconic HBCU spring break party of '80s and '90s

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Freaknik was an annual party held in Atlanta over spring break in the 1980s and '90s that attracted tens of thousands of people at its peak. It is back in the news because a documentary about the tradition just began streaming on Hulu. Julien Virgin of member station WABE spoke with Atlantans who remember.

JULIEN VIRGIN, BYLINE: Tarangela Jones sits on the front porch of her southwest Atlanta home, reminiscing about her early 20s.

TARANGELA JONES: It was parties everywhere. You hear - heard loud music. You had cars just cut off the whole street.

VIRGIN: She's talking about Freaknik, the dayslong festivities centered around Black expression. By the mid '90s, the party quickly became a cultural phenomenon.

(SOUNDBITE OF KATRINA SONG, "SIX EIGHT")

JONES: It was a lot of boom-boom, boom-boom. Like, it was a lot of bass. It was a lot of good-vibe music.

VIRGIN: It was the golden era of bass music in Atlanta, like this record, "Six Eight" by Katrina.

JONES: I mean, everybody bumping they music in they cars. All the girls in they booty shorts. Yes.

VIRGIN: At its height, over 250,000 Black partygoers from across the country took over Atlanta streets.

JONES: Campbellton Road, Downtown, East Point - wherever you went, the city was alive.

VIRGIN: The documentary, "Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told," chronicles the event's rise and eventual downfall. It was produced by record executive Jermaine Dupri and others. Dupri pioneered Atlanta's bass sound from his So So Def recording studio in the 1990s.

Kenley Waller also remembers the street party and the challenges for businesses. Today he owns a soul food restaurant in Atlanta.

KENLEY WALLER: There was no control. I think nobody realized how many people it really was going to be.

VIRGIN: In the '90s, Waller ran a Shoney's in East Atlanta. He says the all-you-can-eat restaurant required 24-hour security.

WALLER: It was, like, chaotic. But we made a lot of money during that period of time. And then we lost a lot of money 'cause people would just get their stuff and just walk out.

VIRGIN: After a major traffic tie-up on Atlanta's famed Peachtree Street in the late '90s and other safety concerns, city leaders cracked down on the street party, and it fizzled out. There was an attempt to revive it in 2019, but the rebooted party couldn't compare to the original, which, for many Atlantans, is now just a fond memory.

For NPR News, I'm Julien Virgin in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Julien Virgin