Orange Crush 2024: Crowds but no chaos for HBCU beach party near Savannah (2024)

TYBEE ISLAND — The Orange Crush beach party is rooted in celebrating the student culture of Savannah State University and the Southeast’s other historically Black colleges and universities. This weekend, the annual bash near Savannah went back to those roots.

Amidst an unprecedented traffic and public safety response spurred by a violent and chaotic gathering last April, tens of thousands of HBCU students, alumni and other young adults, the majority of them Black, converged on Georgia’s most popular beach destination for what a Tybee official deemed an “orderly” celebration.

This year’s Orange Crush, an event that dates to 1988, featured a college spring break vibe, with a steady – albeit slow moving – traffic flow, young people in beachwear, loud music and energetic dancing.

“I’m having the time of my life,” said Lydia Murray, an 18-year-old freshman at Savannah State University, a local HBCU. “It’s good for our mental health to get out, have fun and interact with other people.”

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Orange Crush 2024: Crowds but no chaos for HBCU beach party near Savannah (1)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

A steady stream of Orange Crush attendees flowed onto the island throughout the day Saturday into the early evening. They joined hundreds of others who arrived Friday for the weekend-long bash. Several attendees said they’d gotten on the road as early as 6 a.m. Saturday to make the drive to the shore.

Students huddled in groups, dancing to music blaring from the variety of large Bluetooth speakers and drank alcohol from bottles. Several attendees used megaphones to encourage others to participate in the festivities.

Fraternity and sorority members wore their organization’s colors, chanted and held up their hand signs. Vendors with large coolers filled with pouches of frozen co*cktails set up by the bridges and under the pier.

Those not dancing and singing along to rap tunes built sandcastles, drew caricatures in the sand, scrolled through content on their mobile devices, and tossed around volleyballs.

ExploreOrange Crush 2024: Beach party near Savannah results in 54 arrests

Aja Boone, Murray’s classmate at Savannah State, said Orange Crush provided inspiration as she headed into the final weeks of school.

“It’s been a long semester for us,” Boone said. “It’s a day to let loose and get the creativity flowing again.”

Tybee government leaders recruited more than 100 off-island law enforcement officers to assist with crowd control and brought in special equipment, including a Georgia State Patrol helicopter and several all-terrain vehicles from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

ExploreOrange Crush: Tybee beach officials plan crackdown on popular HBCU party

Tybee also closed three parking lots near the island’s most popular beach, prohibited parking along a part of U.S. 80 and blocked access to residential neighborhoods with barricades.

Tybee Interim City Manager Michelle Owens called the attendees “orderly” and said the safety measures, which met with public criticism in the run-up to the event, accomplished their intended purpose.

Orange Crush 2024: Crowds but no chaos for HBCU beach party near Savannah (3)

“Some people might perceive it as unwelcoming,” said Owens, a graduate of Savannah State. “I wish they would see it more as, in order to be safe, you have to put these measures in place.”

Mark Ballance, the owner of Paradise Snow Cones and Lemonade, defended the extra precautions. He said he thought the barricades and street cones along Butler Avenue were necessary to prevent large groups of people from forming in front of local businesses.

“No one wants the crowds standing there if trouble starts,” he said. “It worked, but it also (expletive) a few people off coming into town.”

Credit: NATRICE MILLER

Orange Crush 2024: Crowds but no chaos for HBCU beach party near Savannah (4)

Credit: NATRICE MILLER

Ballance said problems with technology last year not only made Orange Crush a challenge for tourists but also downtown businesses.

“It used to be jammed,” Ballance said. “The No. 1 problem today is no Wi-Fi. People were sitting in front of the store trying to catch Uber and Lyft with no luck because no one could get on their phones.”

Orange Crush 2024: Crowds but no chaos for HBCU beach party near Savannah (5)

The gathering did result in a number of arrests. A Tybee spokesperson said Sunday the city was still collecting data, but Chatham County jail bookings records showed the Tybee Police arrested at least 17 people over the weekend on offenses ranging from drugs to theft, to weapons possession to DUI. Jail records also showed the Georgia State Patrol, which had a heavy presence on Tybee for Orange Crush, particularly in managing traffic, arrested and booked a number of people in Chatham County as well.

A handful of criminal activities drew public attention. On Friday, an attendee fled during an attempted traffic stop, abandoning his car and running into a residential neighborhood. He was quickly apprehended. On Saturday, a motorist fleeing from police along U.S. 80 collided with another vehicle, drove up on the sidewalk and led law enforcement on a brief high-speed chase before he was apprehended.

Also on Saturday, a Orange Crush attendee was assaulted during an altercation in Tybee’s central business district and was treated by emergency medical personnel. According to a Tybee spokesperson, the assault is still under investigation, and no details were released.

Yet the incidents paled in comparison to last year, several local residents said. A much larger crowd — more than 110,000 — flooded the 3-square-mile island a year ago, gridlocking traffic, and pushing the party beyond the beach and central business district, into residential neighborhoods.

Residents complained to government leaders about property damages, the brandishing of guns and dangerously intoxicated partygoers in the wake of the event.

As the celebration wound down late Saturday night, residents expressed relief that this year’s Orange Crush had not been a repeat of 2023, with several labeling last year an “aberration.”

Residents “demonstrated support for the city efforts to manage public safety this year,” said Cassidi Kendrick, Tybee’s communications director. “It appeared to be more organized.”

Credit: NATRICE MILLER

Orange Crush 2024: Crowds but no chaos for HBCU beach party near Savannah (6)

Credit: NATRICE MILLER

For Precious Kaio, a junior from Atlanta who attends Georgia Southern University and arrived on Tybee on Friday, coming to Orange Crush is a chance for college students to unwind from the stress of campus life and coursework.

“I’m just out here trying to have a good time before finals,” she said.

Jada Gayle, a student from Jamaica attending North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C., made her second trip to Tybee for Orange Crush and said the event is a way to unite people who look like her.

“It’s a bunch of us Black folks getting together and having a good time on the beach and meeting people from my culture and other cultures,” Gayle said.

Orange Crush 2024: Crowds but no chaos for HBCU beach party near Savannah (7)

Kennedy Bivens, a Decatur native attending Savannah State University, said Orange Crush is a break from the pressures of adapting to college life and reminds young people they’re more than just students.

“It’s a lot being in school, but this event shows our people their worth,” Bivens, 20, said. “We’re beautiful people, and Orange Crush allows us to know who we are around our peers. It’s just all in how you carry yourself.”

Orange Crush 2024: Crowds but no chaos for HBCU beach party near Savannah (2024)

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