Don’t look Ethel, it’s nekkid time

Beth KinnaneOur Town Stories, West Knoxville

The Battle of the Bulge, the Nuremberg Trials, the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., Watergate and the Iran Hostage Crisis; these are just a handful of the important news stories that Walter Cronkite brought to kitchens and living rooms across the country during his illustrious career. But 50 years ago, after a week of shenanigans on or near UT’s campus, America’s newsman gave our fair city this ignominious title: Knoxville was the streaking capital of the world.

For the youngsters who aren’t aware, streaking is running in your birthday suit through a public place. It’s been used as a form of protest and celebration forever. But back in the 1970s it really became a thing, especially at sporting events. Ray Stevens’ had a hit novelty song The Streak released in February 1974. At that year’s Academy Awards, broadcast that April, one David Opel streaked across the stage behind David Niven just as he was about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor.

But Hollywood’s razzle dazzle moment of televised nakedness was well behind Knoxville. The ’70s trend didn’t start here, but Vol students put the cherry on top of the cake in one rowdy week from February 28 – March 4. Apparently, a large panty raid (guys raiding dorms and stealing gal’s undies, it was also a thing) was in progress on Feb. 28 at the Presidential Complex on campus and spontaneous streaking erupted with about 50 male participants. The emerging crowd cheered them on with shouts of “Streak! Streak! Streak!”

The next night the party moved to two wheels, on bikes and motorcycles circling the court. A considerable group of male joggers also mooned the ladies of Humes Hall. Cheers all around.

The naked time festivities couldn’t help but make their way to Cumberland Avenue, really putting the strip in The Strip. It helps to keep in mind the drinking age was 18 back then. It started with a male streaker running most of the stretch, a torch of sparklers in hand. One female participant answered the challenge of a bar to run in naked from the car for a free beer. She had to take it with her, health codes and all.

By that Saturday and Sunday, things were generally out of control. Though most remained fully clothed, crowds along The Strip swelled in to the thousands. Rowdiness ensued, people ran naked, some brawls broke out and property was damaged. Even the bull that sat atop Sam and Andy’s didn’t escape unscathed.

UT Chancellor Jack Reese put his foot down. A greater show of force from the combined efforts of UT and Knoxville police had the crowds scared off by March 5. But I’m thinking a big drop in temperatures combined with a chilly rain probably helped.

There was such an uproar at the time that within days our state legislature was asked to consider an anti-streaking bill out of order (suspending rules to introduce a bill after the deadline for the session). The bill was introduced by Lenoir City representative Benny Stafford and would have redefined nudity under the law and set additional penalties.

“As far as I’m concerned streaking is immoral and indecent and just brings this country closer to going to the dogs.” Stafford said at the time. His request to suspend the rules failed on a vote of 64-1, with 66 votes required to pass. KnoxTNToday’s own Sandra Clark was serving in the House at that time, and she voted for the suspension. Former forever mayor Victor Ashe was present but did not vote.

Boogity – Boogity!

Beth Kinnane writes a history feature for It’s published each Tuesday and is one of our best-read features.

Sources: Volopedia, Knoxville News-Sentinel Digital Archives

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