Hulu’s Freaknik Doc Wrote Me Out of History

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame Never Happen

Elizabeth Hampton with Freaknik Lawyer
Elizabeth Hampton with Freaknik Lawyer

Today is April 19, 2024, twenty-nine years ago; at about the same time as when I sat down to write this essay, I was sitting in the Walker County Courthouse waiting for the sentencing hearing for a client in a rape case I had tried in February 1995.

While I believed my client, a Black man who used extra-large condoms (a crucial fact in the case), had had a consensual sexual relationship with a White woman he met at a local laundromat in Lafayette, Georgia, at 2:00 a.m. in 1994, her grandfather, a retired State Legislator from the area testified on behalf of his granddaughter, all but sealing the fate of my client.

April 19, 1995, would prove to be a historic day in the country’s life and my career as a trial lawyer fighting for the underserved members of society. I arose around 5:30 a.m. on this day to prepare for the two-hour drive to Northwest Georgia. After a shower, shave, and breakfast, I bid my wife and son goodbye around 7:00 a.m., and I would not see them again until twenty-four hours later.

Leaving my sub-division in Atlanta, I headed up Interstate 285 East, turning onto Interstate 75 North at the Cumberland Exchange. As I traveled I-75 North through Cobb County, I began to notice heavy traffic in the southbound lane and that in every county, I would see either a county sheriff deputy or a member of the Georgia State Patrol pulled over the side of the road and a young Black man standing outside his car.

It was the third weekend in April when Black teenagers attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities descended on Atlanta for a weekend of revelry and fun in a Black Spring Break Festival dubbed Freaknik by the kids. Three weeks before this morning, Bill Campbell, the third Black mayor of Atlanta, gave in to pressure from the Chamber of Commerce, and Campbell made it plain that Black college students were not welcomed in Atlanta and that he would order the Atlanta police to arrest any student who violated city ordinances.

While the mayor had an obligation to the public to enforce city laws, I believed that on short notice, the students would either not believe that the Black mayor of Atlanta was serious, or they would not have enough time to receive the warning and stay clear of Atlanta the third weekend in 1995.

At the time, I was President-Elect of the Gate City Bar Association, the first Bar Association for Black Attorneys in the State of Georgia. The Association was organized in 1947 under the leadership of A. T. Walden, who moved to Atlanta from my hometown of Macon, Georgia, in 1946 because there were no Black lawyers in Macon who could aid him in his practice. He grew tired of advocating his clients’ cause outside the court’s well.

Harold Michael Harvey and Maynard Jackson at Gate City Hall of Fame Banquet
Harold Michael Harvey and Maynard Jackson at Gate City Hall of Fame Banquet

I asked the Association for permission to organize a pro bono project to represent any student charged with a violation of a city ordinance that did not include guns, violence, or drugs. The Association’s board green-lighted this pro bono project. We held a news conference and announced that the Gate City Bar Association would organize Atlanta lawyers to represent any student arrested during Freaknik 1995. Several lawyers signed up to help in this pro bono project. Nevertheless, this pro bono project drew the ire of Mayor Campbell. He fought me for the next eight years, removing my name from voluntary committee membership; the community had nominated me to serve because of my commitment to community service.

That morning, April 19, 1995, I arrived at the town square in LaFayette around 8:45 a.m. When I reached the courthouse steps around 8:57 a.m., Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder rental truck outside the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

By the time I settled into the jury box in the well of the Walker County Superior Court around 9:02 a.m., a massive fertilizer bomb ripped apart the Alfred Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people, including 19 children who were in a daycare center in the building. At the same time, their parents worked in the federal building.

The nation faced front and center right-wing extremists, who called themselves American Patriots and believed they had a right to wage war against the federal government to protect their rights under the United States Constitution.

Meanwhile, back in Atlanta, the city government led by a Black administration, a majority Black city council, a Black city council President, a Black Chief Judge of Fulton County, a Black Police Chief, a Black District Attorney, a Black Solicitor General, a Black United States Marshall, a Black United States Attorney, and a Black Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court – thought it was in the best interest of the city dubbed, “The city too busy to hate,” thirty years before, when Black college students from the Atlanta University Center Complex organized to break down the barriers of segregation, now thought it best to arrest Black students en mass. Students who were simply out to enjoy the life created for them by the previous generation,  nevertheless, were arrested much like White politicians arrested Black students in the 1960s.

I thought then, and I continue to believe, that it was a horrible idea and not one worthy of upwardly mobile Blacks just 30 years removed from a segregated past. This says all that needs to be said about why Hulu and its Black collaborators would fail to document the exploits of the Freaknik Lawyer. The idea that a Black lawyer would be motivated by what is best for the culture and not profit cuts against the grain of Black uplift and progress.

Around 2:00 p.m. on April 19, 1995, I finished my sentencing hearing and returned to Atlanta. I had not heard about the Oklahoma City bombing, and I had been oblivious to it for several days. I took U. S. Highway 27 through Summerville, across to Adairsville, where I reached I-75 South. I immediately noticed how much heavier the traffic was from the morning drive up I-75 North.

Throughout my drive to Atlanta, I noticed cars filled with young Black people pulled over to the side of the road, pleading with various law enforcement authorities. When I reached Howell Mill Road and I-75 South, it was 4:00 in the afternoon, and the traffic became stop-and-go. Every existing ramp I passed was closed off with a prodigious cement block and a Georgia State Patrol vehicle stationed at the exit. I was stuck between Howell Mill Road and the curve at Georgia Tech just before the Williams Street exit until 4:45 p.m. I usually exit at Williams Street but did not dare to engage the burly White officer stationed outside his state-issued vehicle.

At the Butler Street Exit, I showed my Bar card to an Atlanta Police officer and told him I was trying to get to my office in Peachtree Center.

He let me into the city.

Other motorists, mostly students, were not as fortunate. They were herded around I-285 and not allowed to enter the city. I quickly realized that Atlanta was an armed camp sealed off by Governor Zell Miller and Mayor Bill Campbell as tight as a drum, as tight as General Sherman had sealed the city off in 1864 with Black troops who had been added to the Union forces as Sherman pushed through Chickamauga in Walker County, where I had just left.

I walked into my office about 5:00 p.m. and immediately received a telephone call from Roxanne Gregory, General Counsel for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Gate City partnered with SCLC to provide logistics about students who were arrested and met our criteria for pro bono representation. Gregory informed me the first arrest had occurred on the street fronting Clark, Atlanta University, or Morris Brown College. She wanted to know if my team was ready.

Unfortunately, I could not reach any of the attorneys who had agreed to give their services free during the third weekend in April. Undaunted, I put my coat back on, grabbed my briefcase, and walked down to the Atlanta Life Insurance Company building to the office of Ozell Sutton, the Southeast Regional Director of the Justice Department Community Relations Division.

Sutton was tasked with keeping the peace in trouble spots around the southeast. He was in Memphis, Tennessee, living a few doors down from the Lorraine Motel room Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., exited moments before he was shot. I worked with Sutton as a community organizer in Macon, Georgia, before attending law school in Atlanta.

The Justice Department Office served as command central for our pro bono operation. Gregory and Sutton explained the logistics of getting data about arrests and how that information would be sent to me at the jail. We thought it was important that every student see a friendly face as soon as possible.

I left Sutton’s office, walked to the city jail, and requested to see the first arrestee around 5:30 p.m. I do not remember the young man’s name or the school he attended. He was relieved to see me and learn that someone outside was working to get him out of jail and back to school by Monday.

After logging this young man’s information, I hustled to the City of Atlanta Traffic Court to seek a bond. The court was closed for the day, and I must return on Saturday to request a bond. I took another call from Ms. Gregory, then another, and another. All I could do on a Friday evening was to be a friendly and reassuring face to a young man or lady who was jailed for the first time for essentially having a little fun in what they had perceived before the arrest as “The Black Mecca.”

The calls began to slow around 3:00 a.m. Saturday morning. I interviewed over fifty people. At 3:30 a.m., I told Ms. Gregory that  I   was going home to get some sleep and would be back around 10:00 a.m.

My day had begun 22 hours earlier. I was exhausted, and not thinking I should take the surface streets home, I jumped on I-20 West. When I reached the Ashby Avenue exit near the Atlanta University Center Complex, traffic came to a sudden standstill. The party was on. Guys were getting out of their cars with wine bottles in their hands or pressed against their lips and dancing on I-20 West.

The interstate was filled with smoke and funny-smelling aromas. Men and women removed their clothes and danced in a celebration following the dreaded Y2K. No amount of police repression from adult leaders would stop these students from enjoying their spring break. If they could not party inside the city at Magic City or the Gentlemen’s Club, they would party on I-20 West, where no police officers were present.

By the time I reached home, it was 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning, exactly 24 hours after I had left home on Friday. I immediately went to bed and instructed my wife to wake me at 7:45 a.m. so I could shower and get dressed to attend the kickoff parade for the Cascade Youth Organization’s opening day for the Little League, where my son was a proud member of the Pittsburg Crawfords.

Harold Michael Harvey Susan McCharter Daily Report
Harold Michael Harvey Susan McCharter Daily Report

Following the parade, my neighbors Henry Aaron, “Red” Moore, and several other men who played in the Negro Leagues were present and gleefully autographed baseballs and baseball caps. Several parents patted me on the back and said how proud they were that I was representing the students.

All of the local television stations covered my pro bono project. And while several articles were in the Fulton Daily Report, the Atlanta Journal & Constitution never mentioned my name. Their story highlighted the fact that several dozen students were arrested and detained. There was no mention that one Black lawyer stood up to support young Black students.

By 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, I was back at the city jail, interviewing students and planning for the disposition of their cases. Then, I would run to the courthouse and represent students arrested on Friday. Usually, I got the charges dropped against the students and gained their release from the city jail in time for them to be in class on Monday morning. I worked all day Saturday on forty-five minutes of sleep. No lawyer came to help me.

After leaving the jail early Sunday morning, I learned that my car had been towed from the lot where I had parked it. It took the remainder of the early a.m. to retrieve my car and get home. I fell asleep around 8:00 a.m. I was awakened at 10:00 a.m. by a telephone call. The voice on the other end of the phone said:

“Mr. Harvey, this is Jessie Hill, your neighbor. I didn’t expect you to answer the telephone. I thought you were downtown representing the students. I was going to leave a message with your wife to tell you how proud I am of you and the work you have done this weekend.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hill,” I replied. I had fallen asleep but intended to return to the courthouse by now. Thanks for waking me up.”

The city held court on Sunday to reduce the backlog of cases, and I got charges dropped against other students, ensuring they would be in class on Monday morning. I stayed at the jail until about 4:00 a.m. in the wee hours of Monday morning.

The first cases were scheduled for 8:00 a.m. I slept for a few hours and arrived at the courthouse at about 7:45 a.m. I had about four hours of sleep in the last 72 hours. My brain was fried. There was barely anyone at home. I am not sure how I was able to stand on my feet.

As the first trial drew near, suddenly, four lawyers appeared, asking if they could help me. “Yes,” I said to one of them, “you can hold my briefcase.” I said to another one, “You can nudge me when it is my time to speak.”

I handled all the trials, arriving at my office around 10:00 p.m. I sat at my desk and went through a stack of mail that had been piling up since Friday. Then the phone rang.

“Hello, The Harvey Law Firm,” I answered.

“Is this Michael Harvey,” a female voice inquired on the other end.

“Yes, it is,” I replied.

“Are you the lawyer in Atlanta who has been representing all those students my daughter told me about,” she asked.

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

“I am calling from Connecticut. I just wanted to thank you for all you have done to help these students out. My daughter did not get into trouble, but her friend did, and she told me about this Black lawyer who helped these students for free,” she stated.

“God bless you,” I said.



I sat back in my chair, exhausted, weary, and fulfilled by that one phone call. It made my Freaknik experience worthwhile. I am so glad that I was there for those young people. And while it took a toll on my professional career, I would do it again in a heartbeat, notwithstanding the absence of my fifteen minutes of fame. Hulu, you may write me out of history, but still, I persist.

Harold Michael Harvey, JD, is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is the author of a book on Negro Leagues Baseball, The Duke of 18th & Vine: Bob Kendrick Pitches Negro Leagues Baseball. He writes feature stories for Black College Nines. Com. Harvey is a member of the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, HBCU and PRO Sports Media Association, and the Legends Committee for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Harvey is an engaging speaker. Contact Harvey at


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Published by Michael

Harold Michael Harvey is a Past President of The Gate City Bar Association and is the recipient of the Association’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award. He is the author of Paper Puzzle and Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System, and a two-time winner of Allvoices’ Political Pundit Prize. His work has appeared in Facing South, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Black Colleges Nines, and Medium.

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