In 1980, during the time that Generation X was growing up, Georgia had 5.46 million people living there, just over 1.33 million of them under age 15. This Georgia of Generation X’s youth was generally not-diverse, but relative to other Deep Southern states, the immigrant population was larger. In the state, 3.95 million people (72%) were white, 1.46 million (27%) were black, and 61,000 (1%) were Hispanic. (Asians / Pacific Islanders did not show up as group on this census.) 91,000 people in Georgia were “foreign born,” compared to 33,000 in neighboring Alabama. (Put in context, Georgia’s had 40% more people than Alabama, but its immigrant population was almost triple Alabama’s.) About one-third of Georgia’s immigrants were Europeans, almost a quarter had moved from Asia, more than 18,000 came from Central or South America, and nearly 2,800 from Africa. And a broader array of languages were spoken: about 400,000 people in Georgia spoke a language other than English at home.
This was a period of heavy in-migration for Georgia. From 1970 to 1980, the overall population grew from 4.59 million to 5.46 million. Table 195 in that 1980 census shows that Georgia averaged 12,000 – 15,000 immigrants every five years from 1950 to 1974, then that rate doubled between 1975 and 1980. Also in 1980, where about half of Georgians (2.65 million) lived in the same house they had in 1975, about ten percent (581,000) had moved to Georgia from another state since 1975. But it’s worth nothing that 339,000 of those 581,000 moved from other parts of the South. (You can read more about Latino immigration specifically on the New Georgia Encyclopedia website.)
And then there’s Atlanta. According to Wikipedia:
Atlanta’s population grew steadily during the first 100 years of the city’s existence, and peaked in 1970 at around 496,000. However, from 1970 to 2000, the city lost over 100,000 residents, a decrease of around 16 percent. During the same time, the metro area gained over three million people, cutting the city’s share of the metro population in half, from over 25 percent in 1970 to around 12 percent in 2000. However, the city’s population bottomed out in 1990 at around 394,000, and it has been increasing every year since then, reaching 420,003 residents in 2010.
In the chart below that passage, which cites the 1990 Census as its source, we see a chart about racial dynamics there. In 1940, Atlanta was two-thirds white and one-third black. By 1970, it was roughly half-and-half. By 1990, the city was two-thirds black and one-third white. So, as Georgia’s Generation X grew up, the city center shrunk but the outer-ring suburbs grew exponentially.
Of course, lots of things were changing about Georgia, including state leadership. From 1967 until 1971, the axehandle-wielding segregationist Lester Maddox was governor, then he was replaced by moderate Democrat Jimmy Carter, who would then be elected president in 1976. When the ’80s began, the job was held by George Busbee, who the New Georgia Encyclopedia described like this: “He gave the state eight years of effective, low-key leadership and ranks among the most popular and least controversial of modern Georgia governors.”
However, all controversy was not gone from Georgia. Larry Flynt, the publisher of the porn mag Hustler, was shot in Lawrenceville in 1978 by the same white supremacist who shot Vernon Jordan. There were also continued Civil Rights protests, in the small town of Wrightsville in 1980 and Forsyth County in 1987.
On the brighter side, a new music scene was developing. Widespread Panic played their first shows in 1982 in Athens. REM, The B-52s, and The Side Effects were all playing early gigs at that time, too. There was also Augusta native Amy Grant, whose first album came out in 1979. Through the ’80s, she became popular among the Christian rock crowd and had some pop hits as well.
In the early 1980s, the state also experienced the great heights in college football. The Bulldogs went undefeated and won a national championship in 1980, with freshman Herschel Walker in the back field. In 1982, Walker would win the Heisman Trophy. This was the era of Vince Dooley, who coached UGA from 1964 until 1988. The Bulldogs were ranked in the top five every year from 1980 through ’83.
In 2020, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution offered “Flashback photos: 40 years ago, Atlanta and Georgia in 1980.”
You can also read “ca. 1980” posts on Alabama and Mississippi.