tidbits, fragments, and ephemera 2

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.

Mississippi’s Education Reform Act of 1982

Only the very oldest GenXers in Mississippi would have avoided the effects of this significant change in the way that public education were handled. According to this excerpt from the Mississippi Encyclopedia, after a history of education policy driven by segregation: “The Mississippi Education Reform Act of 1982 established compulsory school attendance, created state-funded kindergartens, increased teacher pay, authorized the hiring of teaching assistants and truant officers, and implemented a statewide testing program for performance-based accreditation of public schools. The reforms were funded by increases in the state’s sales tax and corporate and individual income taxes.”

Reader’s Digest shares the ten best cities for each generation.

According to this article from April 2021, seven of the ten best cities for GenXers to live in are in the South: Atlanta, Louisville, Charlotte, Raleigh, and three cities in south Florida. Sadly, you have scroll past the list for the Boomers to get to our list.

The Ole Miss podcast “Swerve South” features the host of “Waiting to X-hale” podcast.

excerpted: “‘Swerve South,’ a six-part weekly series that debuted Nov. 27, examines the Deep South through the lenses of gender, feminism, multiculturalism, pop culture and queer culture.” Guest have included “the producers of the popular podcast “Waiting to X-Hale,” which fleshes out influential cultural and social moments that define Generation X.”

Homecoming celebrations at HBCUs

This New York Times article “Welcome to Homecoming!” from October 2020 provides an array of perspectives on the traditions at historically black colleges and universities in the South. Several of the recollections are from the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s and include photographs.

The founding of the Savannah College of Art and Design, 1978

excerpted: “The school began its first academic year in the fall of 1979 with seventy-one students, eight faculty, four staff, five trustees, and eight majors. [ . . . ] In May 1981 the first commencement ceremony was held in Savannah’s Madison Square for one graduate.”

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.

Seeking submissions of… (images)

Not everybody wants to sit down and write something. But that shouldn’t stop you from contributing to level:deepsouth, if you want to. The images section is for sharing digitized versions of old photos, flyers from shows, ‘zine covers, artwork . . . One important part of this project is publishing stories about the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s in the Deep South, but there’s also room for photographers and artists to include images of what was going on back then. (And don’t worry about bad hair and embarrassing outfits— we all looked like that.)

To know more about how to submit, check the guidelines.

The Lower End of the Highest Rates

Sometimes I try to do things
and they just don’t work out the way I want ’em to . . .
— from “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies

In the era when Generation X was coming of age, suicide was a growing problem but was seldom discussed openly, honestly, or rationally. Then, as we came of age in the 1980s, the subject was becoming something that had to be addressed. Public outrage was aimed at Ozzy Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution” after a teenager killed himself in 1986. A few years later, in 1990, two sets of parents sued Judas Priest over allegations that subliminal messages in songs had caused their sons’ suicides in 1985. Parents of Gen-Xers nationwide were worried the gateway drugs of heavy metal and Dungeons & Dragons were going to lead kids to worship the devil and end their lives. Looking back, they were worried about the wrong things. 

Though times have changed and suicide prevention is discussed more openly, one CDC study tells us that the trends were scary in the ’80s and ’90s, especially among boys: 

The suicide rate for males aged 15–19 years increased from 12.0 to 18.1 per 100,000 population from 1975 to 1990, declined to 10.8 by 2007, and then increased 31% to 14.2 by 2015. The rate in 2015 for males was still lower than the peak rates in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. Rates for females aged 15–19 were lower than for males aged 15–19 but followed a similar pattern during 1975–2007 (increasing from 2.9 to 3.7 from 1975 to 1990, followed by a decline from 1990 to 2007). The rates for females then doubled from 2007 to 2015 (from 2.4 to 5.1). The rate in 2015 was the highest for females for the 1975–2015 period.

Source: CDC (shows national data)

That brief report doesn’t get into the causes but some studies have attributed the decline in teen-suicide rates to more effective antidepressants that came on the market in the late 1980s. The real question should have been: why do so many teenagers need antidepressants?

However, despite those heavy increases in teen suicides nationally, rates in the Deep South tended to be lower. A January 2001 publication titled “Juvenile Suicides, 1981 – 1998,” shows that rates in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina were near or below the national average. In Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee, rates were only slightly higher. Arkansas’s much-higher rate was an outlier for the region. That 2001 report also contains graphs showing that suicides were more common among white teenagers than black, and more common among boys than girls. These maps from that report give a visual representation of the differences:

Source:OJDP/CDC, 2001

The maps also show us something else about the culture of Generation X in the Deep South: murder rates were higher than suicide rates among teenagers. That says to me that, back then, violence was more likely to be turned outward than inward, especially in a culture where guns were prevalent.

Stories about teen suicide and efforts to prevent it littered Southern newspapers throughout the ’80s and ’90s. In September 1989, an AP wire article out of Little Rock explained that a state commission was looking at the problem, because Arkansas’s annual rate increase was “a staggering 88 percent.” Another article out of Mississippi in March 1987 said that teen suicides had doubled since 1970, though the increase there could have been attributed to “better overall record keeping since 1978 and an eroding stigma about putting suicide as the official cause of death on death certificates.” 

The numbers show that suicide was a major problem among Generation X. They also show that the problem was less severe in the Deep South, though it’s hard to say why. Maybe the Southern penchant for valuing family and tradition made a difference. Maybe it was a byproduct of a culture with a strong religious element. Maybe we were less tapped-in to pop culture. Whatever the reasons, they either aren’t clearly documented or aren’t easily located.