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Freaknik getting under way; some events canceled

April 18, 1997 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) _ Thousands of revelers began arriving for the annual spring break festival Freaknik, even though some events already have been canceled.

Spring Jam ’97, a partnership formed to organize concerts, a job fair and other events, canceled its concerts at the last minute.

Wanda Cunningham, the promoter who headed Spring Jam ’97, declined to discuss the cancellations. Publicist Charlotte Roy said promoters were unable to muster enough upfront money because corporate sponsorships did not materialize.

Meanwhile, the city was taking a friendlier approach to Freaknik, the annual street party that attracts thousands of black college students to Atlanta. The students coming here were being met by a ``friendship force″ handing them brochures instead of police roadblocks that confronted them last year.

City officials hope the plan will bring civility to what’s become known as a sprawling, traffic-jamming street party.

``Few issues in the city of Atlanta have been as divisive in the last 10 years,″ Mayor Bill Campbell said Thursday. ``It is a very difficult weekend even under the best of circumstances.″

Freaknik began in 1982, when students at Spelman and Morris Brown colleges held a picnic for about 65 students during spring break. It gained national fame in the late 1980s when it was mentioned on ``A Different World,″ a television comedy show about black college students.

Again this year, the city’s entire police force will be on duty to monitor the crowds. And this time there will be a bomb management center operated in conjunction with federal officials.

With three unsolved bombings in Atlanta since the Olympics, city officials have said they’re wary because Saturday marks the anniversaries of the deadly inferno at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the Oklahoma City bombing.

Early today, Indiana state troopers stopped more than 40 cars they say were headed to Freaknik, ticketing the drivers for speeding and arresting five men on various charges including possession of a stolen vehicle.