Mississippi, ca. 1980

In 1980, Mississippi had a population of just over 2.5 million, and about 660,000 of those people were under age 15. Generation X in “the most Southern place on Earth” made up about 17.7% of the total population there.  According to the Mississippi Department of Vital Statistics, just over 1.6 million of the state’s residents were white and about 900,000 “nonwhite.” That meant that the state was about two-thirds white, with African Americans (presumably) making up the vast majority of the other third. 

county map for the 1987 governor’s race

The population was also shifting itself around geographically. DeSoto (near Memphis), Lamar (near Hattiesburg), and Rankin (near Jackson) counties all grew by 50% or more, with growth that was mostly white. Eleven other counties grew by 20 – 40%. As for cities and towns, Clinton and Pearl both grew by more than 100%, Southaven by 80%, and Ocean Springs by 50%. 

There are interesting aspects to using a vital statistics report rather than a census report to compile an overview like this one. For example, where a census report would note general numbers showing population change, a vital statistics report offers facts and figures about what was happening. For example, in 1980, the nonwhite birth rate was outpacing the white birth rate by almost double. Also, Table D-2 shows that 572 GenXers got married in 1980: eight thirteen-year-olds, fifty-eight fourteen-year-olds, and 506 fifteen-year-olds. Among the adults, there were 13,846 divorces in 1980, up from 8,211 in 1970, and the vast majority of them were caused by either “irreconcilable differences” or “cruel and inhuman treatment.” 

At the 1980s began, in politics, the mildly progressive William Winter was elected governor in 1979, but that didn’t stop Ronald Reagan from making the now-infamous move of kicking off his 1980 presidential campaign in Neshoba County with a “states’ rights” speech. During the early ’80s, Mississippi made the progressive move of reforming its education system but its legislature also failed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. 

Comparatively, Mississippi has long fallen behind in various ways. in 1980, Mississippi’s poverty rate was the highest in the nation at 24.3%. (By the mid-1980s, that rate was even higher at 25.6%.) Also, in 1983, it was the last state to put public radio on the air.


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