tidbits, fragments, and ephemera 21: what’s up, 1987?

tidbits, fragments, and ephemera is a usually weekly but not always, sometimes substantial but not making any promises glimpse at some information and news related to Generation X in the Deep South.

Louisiana’s Education Funding Amendment, 1987

In the late 1980s, Louisiana put forth an amendment for a public vote that would require the state to fund all of its required programs. (A radical move, to be sure!) While the amendment did pass, it only passed with 56% of the vote, meaning that 44% of those who cast ballots opposed funding programs that were required by law.

Mississippi’s Race and Marriage Amendment, 1987

That same year, Mississippi’s legislature gave its people a chance to vote on Amendment 3, which would “repeal Section 263, which prohibited the marriage of a white person with an African American or a person having a certain percentage of African American blood.” Again, that amendment passed as well— barely . . . with 52% of the votes. Meaning that 48% of voters in 1987 selected the option to keep that miscegenation law on the books. (Of course, the Loving v. Virginia case had made these law unconstitutional more than a decade earlier.)(And to be fair to Mississippi, Alabama put this issue on the ballot thirteen years later, in 2000, and it only passed by 60-40 margin.)

The arrest of Walter McMillian in Alabama, 1987


Though few people knew his name before, Walter McMillian’s case became well-known in the recent film Just Mercy, which tells the story of Brian Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative law firm. McMillian was arrested for murder and other crimes in Monroeville, Alabama in June 1987. He was exonerated in March 1993 after spending six years on death row.

Charles Blackburn in Forsyth County, Georgia, 1987

excerpt: “Growth in Forsyth County only accelerated with the extension of Georgia 400 in the 1970s. […] Although the population remained almost entirely white, many of the new residents were from other parts of the country and did not share the same racist beliefs that some locals held. One new resident, a martial arts instructor named Charles Blackburn, wanted to organize a protest in January of 1987 to show that the county had overcome its prior racial intolerance. A flood of threats forced Blackburn to cancel the event (and eventually flee the county), but the march went on thanks to civil rights activist Hosea Williams and Dean Carter, a Gainesville resident.”

The South Carolina-Miami brawl in the 1987 Independence Bowl

This 2014 article offers a look back at the December 1987 fight between the two teams.

level:deepsouth is an online anthology about growing up Generation X in the Deep South during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. The anthology is open to submissions of creative nonfiction (essays, memoirs, and reviews) and images (photos and flyers), as well as to contributions for the lists.

tidbits, fragments, and ephemera 20: movies set in the South

tidbits, fragments, and ephemera is a usually weekly but not always, sometimes substantial but not making any promises glimpse at some information and news related to Generation X in the Deep South.

Of all the Southern movies that came out in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, almost none depict the lives of Generation X in the South. Actors from Generation X may have been employed for the movies, but the stories usually weren’t about our lives. For example, Brooke Shields in being in Pretty Baby in 1978 when she was 12, but the story was set in 1917. Some of the movies that show our generation in the South in any kind of way were: Conrack (kind of), Six Pack, Crossroads, School Daze, Steel Magnolias (kind of), some of ’90s John Grishams, and Sling Blade. Mostly, filmmakers talked around us, focusing on historical episodes, Civil Rights dramatizations, or the lives of older generations. Where other parts of the country had films about what it was like to be GenX – Suburbia set in California, Kids set in New York City, and The Breakfast Club filmed in Illinois – there are no significant portrayals that focus on being Generation X in the South.


The Liberation of LB Jones (1970) • I Walk the Line (1970)

tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . (1970) • WUSA (1970)

A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970) • The Beguiled (1971)

Preacherman (1971) • Mississippi Summer (1971)

This Stuff’ll Kill Ya (1971) • Deliverance (1972) • Sounder (1972)

The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) • Moon of the Wolf (1972)

Corky (1972) • The Glass Menagerie (1973, TV)

Walking Tall (1973) • White Lightning (1973)

Preacherman Meets Widderwoman (1973)

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973)

Gator Bait (1974) • The Klansman (1974)

Buster and Billie (1974) • Macon County Line (1974)

Black Oak Conspiracy (1974) • Conrack (1974) • Abby (1974)

Cockfighter (1974) • Hot Summer in Barefoot County (1974)

Bucktown (1975) • Poor Pretty Eddie (1975)

WW & the Dixie Dance Kings (1975) • Hard Times (1975)

Bad Georgia Road (1975) • The Night They Robbed Big Bertha’s (1975)

Truckin’ Man (1975) • Nashville (1975) • Moonrunners (1975)

Framed (1975) • Return to Macon County (1975) • Walking Tall 2 (1975)

Emma Mae (1976) • Gator (1976) • Ode to Billy Joe (1976)

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) • Nashville Girl (1976)

Eaten Alive (1976) • JD’s Revenge (1976) • Passion Plantation (1976)

Stay Hungry (1976) • Roots (TV 1977) • Redneck Miller (1977)

Death Driver (1977) • Walking Tall, the Final Chapter (1977)

Smokey and the Bandit (1977) • Moonshine County Express (1977)

Bootleggers (1977) • Greased Lightning (1977) •  French Quarter (1978)

Pretty Baby (1978) • Seabo, or Buckstone County Prison (1978)

Smokey and the Good Time Outlaws (1978) • Lawman without a Gun (1978)

Norma Rae (1979) • Wise Blood (1979) • Roots: Next Generation (1979)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1979)

(There are also the pornographic “hicksploitation” films: Tobacco Roody, Southern Comforts, Country Cuzzins, Sweet Georgia, Country Hooker, and Midnight Plowboy.)


Georgia Peaches (1980) • The Sky is Gray (1980)

The Loveless (1981) • Back Roads (1981)

The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia (1981)

Southern Comfort (1981) • The Evil Dead (1981)

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981, TV)

Smokey Bites the Dust (1981) •  Six Pack (1982)

The Beast Within (1982) • Stroker Ace (1983)

A Gathering of Old Men (1983) • Cross Creek (1983)

Tank (1984) • Ellie (1984) • The River Rat (1984)

The Fix (1985) •The Color Purple (1985) • Crossroads (1986)

Down by Law (1986) • Angel Heart (1987) • Shy People (1987)

From a Whisper to a Scream (1987) • The Glass Menagerie (1987)

The Big Easy (1987) • School Daze (1988) • Mississippi Burning (1988)

Long Walk Home (1988) • Driving Miss Daisy (1989) • Blaze (1989)

Mystery Train (1989) • Steel Magnolias (1989)

Trapper County War (1989) • Sweet Bird of Youth (remake, 1989)

Miss Firecracker (1989) • Tennessee Waltz (1989)


Cape Fear (remake 1991) • Voodoo Dawn (1991) • Ramblin’ Rose (1991)

Forrest Gump (1991) • Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

The Prince of Tides (1991) • Mississippi Masala (1991)

Paris Trout (1991) • Daughters of the Dust (1991) • Doc Hollywood (1991)

Carolina Skeletons (1991) • My Cousin Vinny (1992) • Borderlines (1992)

The Firm (1993) • Sommersby (1993) • Dead Man Walking (1995)

Sling Blade (1996) • A Time to Kill (1996) • Heaven’s Prisoners (1996)

Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) • The Chamber (1996) • Nightjohn (1996)

Bastard Out of Carolina (1996) • The Rainmaker (1997) • Rosewood (1997)

Macon County Jail (1997) •The Apostle (1997) • Clover (1997)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) • Eve’s Bayou (1997)

Carolina Low (1997) • Traveller (1997) • The Waterboy (1998)

Beloved (1998) • Evidence of Blood (1998) • Down in the Delta (1998)

The Secret Path (1999) • End of Innocence (1999)

level:deepsouth is an online anthology about growing up Generation X in the Deep South during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. The anthology is open to submissions of creative nonfiction (essays, memoirs, and reviews) and images (photos and flyers), as well as to contributions for the lists.

Alabama, ca. 1980

During the time that Generation X was growing up, Alabama had 3.89 million people living here, more than 900,000 of them age 15 or under. In 1980, about 40% of Alabamians lived in rural areas, 45% lived in towns of 25,000 to 100,000 people, and only 15% lived in one of the state’s urban areas.  Combining those facts and figures would mean that relatively few GenXers grew up in one of Alabama’s four major cities – 15% of 900,00 is 135,000 – while the vast majority grew up in the country or around smaller towns.

In addition to being largely not-urban, the Alabama of Generation X’s youth was also not-diverse. In the state, 2.88 million people (73%) were white, 996,000 (26%) were black, and 33,000 (1%) were Hispanic. (Asians / Pacific Islanders did not show up as group on this report.) Only 39,000 Alabamians were “foreign born,” and the majority of them lived in cities. Nearly half of the state’s immigrants were Europeans, though over 9,000 people had moved to Alabama from Asia, more than 4,000 from Central or South America, and nearly 1,500 from Africa. A look at the 1980 census’s sections on languages spoken shows that very few Alabamians spoke a language other than English. 

So, most of Alabama’s Generation X grew up in a small-town world with medium-sized cities nearby, where three-quarters of the people were native born and white. That was the old Alabama holding strong, as anyone can see from this image from a Ku Klux Klan rally in downtown Mobile in 1980. The next year, 1981, saw the lynching of Michael Donald there as well.

However, other aspects were changing, like educational attainment. No GenXers had yet finished high school in 1980, but for those slightly older (born between 1955 and 1960), high school graduation rates were about 78%, up from the Boomers’ rate of 71%. (Our grandparents’ rates were half that or less.) On Table 201A of the census, we see that 98% of GenXers between ages 7 and 14 were enrolled in school, though that number dropped off after age 14— 96% at age 15, 90% at age 16, 81% at age 17, and 63% at age 18. The dropout age was 16 at that time, but the diminished percentage of 18-year-olds could be the fact that some students, like me, graduated at 17. Among the demographic groups, there wasn’t much difference in who was staying in school or dropping out: boys, girls, white, black, the numbers are close to the same. 

Looking at the changes in population and the composition of state leadership points to other changes occurring in Alabama. According to the 1980 census, the state population rose by 13% from 1970 to 1980, a marked difference from the four previous decades, when the population grew 5% to 8% each decade. That growth had to be due to an influx of outsiders rather than higher birth rates, since Generation X is a noticeably smaller generation. The newcomers may have affected the state’s politics. As the 1980s began, the governor was a party-switching former Auburn football player named Forrest “Fob” James, but by ’83, the old school George Wallace was back for one term. Then in 1987, voters chose Guy Hunt, the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. (In 1992, Hunt was convicted on ethics charges and removed from office by a Democratic attorney general.)

In the 1980s, the state also experienced major changes in the dynamics of its football culture. The Crimson Tide had won national championships in 1978 and 1979, then legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant retired after the 1982 season, ending his career with a loss to Auburn. He died in January 1983, and the Tide did not win another championship until 1992. By contrast, Auburn won six of the ten Iron Bowl games in the 1980s and had Heisman Trophy-winning running back Bo Jackson on the team from 1982 through 1985.

For more on Alabama in the 1980s, see al.com’s “Vintage photos show what Alabamians were up to in the Eighties,” from February 2020.