The month of March can’t be allowed to escape without some celebration of that spring night, 35 years ago, when 1,543 students at the University of Georgia ran naked across the Sanford Stadium bridge.
It was a streaking record that still stands, and may never be matched — not in a world littered with cell phone cameras and Internet connections.
Mass nudity is a strange topic for political discussion, you say. But think about it. A generation ago, more so than today, UGA was home of the gentleman’s “C” and a training ground for the children of Georgia’s ruling elite.
The naked students of 1974 — as well as several thousand more who lined the streets to urge them on — are now well into their 50s. Their bodies may be sagging, their hair may be gray or missing, but some of them are now in command of large slices of your world.
More than three decades later, the act of throwing caution and clothes to the wind remains a sensitive topic. In a phone conversation, one public figure in metro Atlanta insisted that disclosure would lead to immediate ruin.
Others demanded that the state of their dress be included with any remarks. “I was a parade marshal and I was clothed. And I’m not just talking about the armband,” said Tom Bordeaux, a Savannah attorney and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Bordeaux now sits on a small committee that screens those seeking appointments from the Obama administration in Georgia — for federal judgeships and the like.
Bordeaux took two lessons away from the Great Streak. First, in vast quantities, nudity loses much of its allure. “It wasn’t particularly lustful or sexual,” he said.
Lesson No. 2: “Most people should not be seen naked.”
Me? I was a freshman photographer, trying to snag a spot on the campus newspaper. The evening produced a single 8×10 that I turned into a souvenir for the new girlfriend I had dragged along. It was one of our first dates, and cheap.
The not-so-new girlfriend dug the photo out of our basement last week. In the background, above the crook of a lone streaker’s left elbow, was a future DeKalb County district attorney — fully attired.
So I called J. Tom Morgan. He contended the young man in the photo couldn’t possibly be him. Because that March night, Morgan said, he didn’t wear any clothes.
“It was crazy, but remember, too, it was the end of winter quarter. The weather was changing, and it was absolutely gorgeous the day we ran,” said the ex-prosecutor, who left office in 2002.
Morgan was to become student body president the year following the Great Streak. In fact, he was one of those who persuaded university president Fred Davison to let the event unfold, without interference.
Athens police had used tear gas on a crowd of students only a few days earlier.
“We just wanted to make sure nobody got fire-hosed,” Morgan remembered. “[Davison] said, ‘Promise me, J. Tom, that nobody’s going to get hurt.’ For all his faults, he was pretty cool about that.”
Nobody got hurt. Nobody was arrested.
(As for that figure in the photo, Morgan and I have concluded that it is indeed him — that he ran at the front of the nude pack, and was a fast dresser.)
Two future congressmen lived in Athens that spring. U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, a Republican from Savannah, sends word that he didn’t attend the streak.
It was a school night, a Thursday, and exams were at hand.
U.S. Rep. John Barrow, a Democrat from Savannah, was the son of a local Athens judge. Like most freshman, he wasn’t quite plugged in.
“They didn’t have a parade route or anything published, so I kind of missed out on seeing the mass of folks. The action always seemed to be someplace else,” Barrow said. But he was there, and he was clothed.
Young Barrow was also observant. The Great Streak, he noticed, was the product of a balance struck between audacity and anonymity. A critical mass of human flesh was needed to make it work.
“That was sort of the secret of the thing — to get so many folks involved in it that you had the protection of the herd wrapped around you,” he said.
In other words, Barrow had just discovered that the art of politics has much in common with running starkers through the street.
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