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Harold Michael Harvey Remembers His Work During Freaknik

Harold Michael Harvey at a Gate City Hall of Fame dinner in 1997 (Photo courtesy of Harold Michael Harvey).
Harold Michael Harvey at a Gate City Hall of Fame dinner in 1997 (Photo courtesy of Harold Michael Harvey).

In Atlanta, the name Freaknik is associated with heavy traffic, music and street parties, as shown in the recent Hulu documentary.

In its later years, particularly after the HBCU student event — and the traffic and controversy associated with it — exploded in popularity around 1993, the city began to tighten its grip on what was allowed, enforcing traffic and alcohol laws more strictly than she had in years. pass.

In 1994, Mayor Bill Campbell announced that the city would begin to combat Freaknik and that the black students who visited Atlanta each year would no longer be as welcome as before. But when it came time for Freaknik in 1995, Harold Michael Harvey worried that students wouldn’t heed the city’s warning.

“I thought the mayor’s announcement would take students by surprise and they would show up not knowing they would be subject to police enforcement,” said Harvey, an attorney at the time. “I thought it was a mistake to forbid them from coming.”

In 1995, Harvey spent his Freaknik Weekend helping arrested students. At the time, he was president-elect of the Gate City Bar Association, the first black bar association in the state of Georgia. Before Freaknik arrived that year, Harvey said he asked the association if he could organize a pro bono project to represent any students accused of violating a city ordinance at the event, provided that it doesn’t involve guns, violence or drugs. According to Harvey, the association agreed and many attorneys signed up to help when the project was first announced. But when the time came, he was the only one to show up.

“I think they realized it wasn’t a popular thing to do,” Harvey said when asked why he thought no other attorneys came forward to help him.

A spokesperson for the Gate City Bar Association confirmed Harvey was a past president, but did not say when. The spokesperson said the association’s records go back only 10 years, which is not as far back as would be necessary to find records on the pro bono project, or to know which lawyers are are registered to participate.

According to Harvey’s recollection, he helped approximately 180 students during Freaknik Weekend in 1995, working throughout the event to ensure that students could return to school on Monday. In 1996 he said he worked with about 140 students and about 100 in 1997. He said most of the cases he handled involved traffic violations, public disorder and, in in some cases, criminal assaults against a police officer.

An article about Harold Michael Harvey's work during Freaknik in 1995 (Photo courtesy of haroldmichaelharvey.com).
An article about Harold Michael Harvey’s work during Freaknik in 1995 (Photo courtesy of haroldmichaelharvey.com).

The Atlanta Municipal Court did not have records or data available for the years 1995, 1996, or 1997., neither the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office nor the Atlanta Police Department.

Harvey’s neighbor, City Attorney Raines Carter, said he remembered Harvey’s work during Freaknik.

“Michael Harvey was one of the leaders in the legal community who recognized that students needed representation,” Carter said in an emailed statement. “He organized a group of lawyers to help students through the legal system. He showed compassion to those who did not realize the impact that arrests and convictions could have on their lives. His advocacy in court and in meetings to bring negotiations to fruition proved as valuable to the prosecutor’s office and the court as it was to the students.

Harvey said at the time that he found the city’s reaction to Freaknik overblown.

“I thought the police response was very oppressive,” he told Rough Draft. “This did not present a welcoming or safe environment for Spring Break Festival attendees.”

Harvey said he doesn’t remember most of the names or circumstances of the people he helped, but one case stood out to him. As Harvey recalls, a young woman he represented was a senior in college and had applied to medical school. The police had blocked the exit that would take her to her hotel, and as she sat in her car and tried to explain this to a police officer, her car rolled forward and hit him. Harvey said she was arrested for assaulting a police officer, but was eventually able to reduce the charge to that of disturbing the peace.

“It particularly worried me, because here you had this smart young woman who wanted to be a doctor, who thought she was coming to Atlanta to have a little fun,” Harvey said. “And here she is now, facing trial for a crime.”

In 2019, Harvey wrote a memoir about his experience working at Freaknik titled “Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance.” He said he was motivated to write the book after researching his family history. In doing so, he discovered a photo of his grandmother’s grandfather standing at a slave auction in Hawkinsville, Georgia, in 1847.

After this discovery, the legacy of his family history began to crumble. According to Harvey, his grandmother’s grandfather and younger brother escaped from a plantation and hid in a swamp to avoid detection for three years. They sat there, Harvey said, until they learned that the original planter who bought them — someone with a bad reputation — had sold them to another planter out of frustration. The new planter had a gentler reputation, so the brothers went and worked on that plantation until slavery ended.

“I think that’s why I did it,” Harvey said of his work during Freaknik. “I just have this stubborn, fearless thing in my DNA that I didn’t know was in my DNA.”