The Great Streak of 1974

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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17 comments Add your comment

Robert

March 29th, 2009
6:40 pm

I was taking photos that night, too, and now feel embarrassed that I was clothed. But I do have pictures of a woman on the Reed Hall roof wearing only Groucho Marx glasses. Remember the twin black dwarfs that worked at the Pepsi distributorship? I have them in their tightie-whities. Good times.

Jim

March 29th, 2009
7:55 pm

Jim,

Thanks for the memories. I, as well, was a freshman. It is a week
that I will never forget. Looking back, it is amazing the way it
just happened. My favorite were the parachutist’s who landed nude
at the intramural fields. I also drove up upon motorcylist’s a few
times who were wearing nothing but a helmet. I was on the Sanford
bridge that night, but, it was as a spectator only. Again, this week
was absolutely amazing and could never happen again. It probably had
a lot to do with my not so spectacular grades for the quarter, but, looking back, it was all worth it! What a week!!!

Jim

March 29th, 2009
7:55 pm

Enter your comments here

David

March 29th, 2009
7:57 pm

Mr Galloway, thank you for a fantastic entry. The importance of the University in shaping the civic and political life of our state cannot be underestimated, clothing or no clothing.

Bird

March 29th, 2009
8:06 pm

Rubenstein,
I thought you and Fontaine led the pack!!!!!?????

Jon

March 29th, 2009
8:30 pm

Along with Barrow’s conclusion about the protection of the herd, it seems worth noting that it also required those in power to stand idly by and “let the event unfold, without interference.” There’s a lesson for aspiring politicians in that too I believe, about how often complicity of those in office is often part of the equation.

Dave

March 29th, 2009
8:39 pm

For what it’s worth . . . the president of Furman wasn’t as cool as Dr. Davison was during our 3 person streak back in ‘74. Guess we should’ve waited to get 1570 more. Probably never would’ve pulled it off though, Furman only had a couple of thousand students. Strength in numbers, eh?

Lou

March 29th, 2009
10:25 pm

My mom still has a shirt that says “UGA Streaking Team” with the backside of a naked guy running.

raymond

March 30th, 2009
12:16 pm

I never streaked. Streaking didn’t come up, almost at all, at my college; but I did spend the summers at nude beaches; and, THAT was heaven.

Boo Boo

March 30th, 2009
2:52 pm

I think the picture of young J.Tom – with his mischievous, bright smile and 1970s mustache – looks pretty hot. One can only imagine him without his clothes.

John

March 30th, 2009
5:06 pm

Thanks very much for the updates on that crowd. That was one of the strangest weeks of my life. Not only was it “streak week” but it was also the week of the protest against Dr. William Shockley’s appearance at the P-J Auditorium. As with the other Reed Hall denizen’s of the day, we were at “ground zero” of both events.

Pat

March 30th, 2009
9:10 pm

Well, you never know when your past is going to find you out. :)

Peggy

March 31st, 2009
11:44 am

Just had my sister call me to look this article up! I was a freshman as well and hung out with my sister, a Senior at the time, and all her friends. Although, most of us did not participate, my sister did ride on one of the motorcycles with one of the lead participants prior to his strip down. He and his fellow sky divers were the ones who landed in the intramural fields. A great time and memory that did go well with no major arrests or controversy.

Semi-Sweet Tea

April 1st, 2009
11:23 am

Did you know the first streaking event may have taken place during the late 1700s? While reading “John Adams” by David McCullough, I was shocked and surprised to learn that John’s son Charles was among those Harvard students who “ran naked through Harvard Yard, and the implications are that there had been drinking involved.”

RSW

April 1st, 2009
11:23 am

I was there that night running with the rest of the naked people. It was a remarkable event. No cell phones were there to records the glory. Now there would be a flood of YouTube and Iwitness reports
The high attendance was spurred by the tear gassing of the students blocking the street a few nights before.

Bobby Anthony

April 1st, 2009
1:43 pm

I got this link from Carolyn Wyldes and it sure brought bacj memories. I am glad cell phone cameras were not around.

Carolyn Wildes

April 1st, 2009
11:47 pm

Well, since my name was mentioned by Bobby, I reckon I’ll comment. I know nothing and I saw nothing – except the blurry back end of a solitary streaker, breezing past our dinner table in Snelling.

During the last few years while becoming reacquainted with some of my college friends, I had no idea so many of them were streakers! I didn’t know about RSW until today, and we even “dated” – but we didn’t date?

“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.”

While I’m not in command of much outside of my kitchen (until Tommy gets me one of those appointments by President Obama), some of us are not sagging all that much and some of us still have reddish hair (thanks to Revlon ColorSilk and sideburn sticks).

J. Tom actually served as student body president two years after the Great Streak from the springs of 1976 to 1977. Jody O’Connell (my favorite UGA friend) served as the best student body president ever during the year after.

Thank you, Jim, for another great article! Please give my regards to Mrs. Galloway who I’m sure looks as “new” as when I first met her during high school.