tidbits, fragments, and ephemera 22: the John Grisham edition

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.


In the 1990s, books and movies by Mississippi lawyer-legislator turned novelist John Grisham were ubiquitous to the point of being unavoidable. His success probably began with the 1993 film adaptation of The Firm, which was followed by a steady stream of Hollywood adaptations starring recognizable actors. Some were pure legal thrillers, while others dealt with unresolved issues in the culture of the post-Civil Rights South.

A Time to Kill (1989) and the movie (1996)

Grisham’s first novel, admittedly rejected by several publishers before its acceptance by a small press, tells the story of a black man in a small town in Mississippi who kills the two white men who’ve raped his ten-year-old daughter. This time, we’ve got Mathew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samuel L. Jackson.

The Firm (1991) and the movie (1993)

The far-more-successful second novel was picked up by New York publishing house Doubleday and made into a movie that stars Tom Cruise. The story this time is about a young lawyer who joins the dream law firm, only to find out that there’s an insidious underbelly to its façade.

The Pelican Brief (1992) and the movie (1993)

By this time, the author was showing how prolific he could be. The film versions stars Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington.

The Client (1993), the movie (1994), and the TV series (1995–1996)

And the hits kept on rolling. This time, the star is Susan Sarandon, and she’s protecting a boy who witnessed a mob death.

The Chamber (1994) and the movie (1996)

In the movie, Gene Hackman plays an elderly Ku Kluxer on death row for a 1967 bombing, and Chris O’Donnell plays his grandson, who is a liberal lawyer from Chicago. The story has the younger man trying to make sense of who his stolid, gruff grandfather is. Although the blog Screenrant called this the worst of the John Grisham movies, I kind of liked it.

The Rainmaker (1995) and the movie (1997)

Not to be confused with the play that was made into a Burt Lancaster movie, this novel and its adaptation have us once again following a young lawyer. This time, the main character is in Memphis, fighting an insurance corporation for denying a policyholder who deserved treatment for their son’s cancer. The movie stars Matt Damon.

The Runaway Jury (1996) and the movie (2003)

This was kind of the last one in the string, and its movie came along a few years later. Grisham’s novels continue to sell, of course, but the annual movie thing had fizzled. This early 21st-century adaptation stars John Cusack, who had left his ’80s nerd archetype behind and become the quasi-action star we saw in late-’90s films like Grosse Pointe Blank and Con Air.

Other novels from the late 1990s that were not made into theatrical-release movies were The Partner (1997), The Street Lawyer (1998), and The Testament (1999). However, one of Grisham’s “discarded” stories was made into the movie The Gingerbread Man (1998), and The Street Lawyer became a made-for-TV movie in 2003.


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 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

McMillian

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.

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.