tidbits, fragments, and ephemera 16

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.

Jim Clyburn elected president of South Carolina’s Young Democrats, 1972

Though Clyburn is not a GenXer, his election in this case shows a marked difference between the Southern politics that the Boomers were familiar with – in South Carolina, that meant Strom Thurmond – and the politics that Generation X became familiar with. For older Southerners, the Democrats were the party of segregation, but it had become the party of Civil Rights by the 1970s. Clyburn rose through the ranks of the party, and as a congressman has been credited with garnering many Southern black votes for Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election.

Mississippi University for Women in the 1970s and ’80s

Showing perhaps some degree of change in Deep Southern culture, Mississippi State College for Women was renamed Mississippi University for Women in 1974. Then, MUW began admitting male students in 1982, and in 1989, the school got its first female president, Clyda Rent. Since its founding in 1884, there had been three female interim presidents who served brief terms before her. Since 1989, only one of the six presidents has been male.

The Todd Road Incident and Leadership Montgomery, 1983

Montgomery, Alabama is well-known as the site of Rosa Parks 1955 arrest and as the destination for the 1965 voting-rights marchers, but fewer people know about the city’s ongoing racial divisions, which continued. The Todd Road Incident involved the shooting of a black teenager by police officers who did not identify themselves as such. In the wake of the controversy, the organization Leadership Montgomery was formed, in hopes of addressing the issues that led to these situations.

“Flashback photos: 30 years ago, 1990 in Georgia” from ajc.com

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.

1980s Montgomery: Remembered and Now Considered

by Adrienne Gaines

Born in the late 1970s, most of my childhood memories come from the 1980s, and are those of a white girl who lived this decade mostly in Montgomery, Alabama. I grew up in a nuclear family of four – my married parents, my older sister, and me – in a middle-class neighborhood, where there was stability of location, family, school, and friends.  We kept in touch with extended family through traditions around holidays.  My father, the “breadwinner,” and my mother, a stay-at-home mom, were not the helicopter parents of today. My sister and I attended the neighborhood public elementary school.  My parents created a laid-back environment where my sister and I knew it was safe to try new things, to dream big, and to believe in ourselves. 

Home was open windows and attic fans, eating cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas straight from the backyard garden, and a playhouse crafted on stilts from an old tin shed. I remember the magic of fire flies, and that one of the best places for hiding Easter eggs was in Granddaddy’s iris blooms. Every season, except summer, passed by quickly, with many Christmases spent in shorts.  I remember sitting in school hallways with a book over my head for countless tornado drills and warnings, and yet I don’t recall being scared.  I remember huge annual family reunions, where we were all smashed into a great aunt’s home with the best homemade food. Church was Sunday mornings, VBS in the summer, and children’s musicals at Easter and Christmas.  I remember the bench front seats in our truck and car where I learned to steer and shift gears long before I was near driving age. I remember family vacations with well-packed coolers for food on the road, and pull-out couches, guest rooms, or a tent instead of a hotel. I remember being proud when I could out climb, out run, or out strategize a boy who had challenged me just because “I was a girl.” I remember the freedom to roam untethered, with only the streetlights to call me home.  I remember country music on the radio and folk music on the record player, and Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, and The Cosby Show, Cheers, and M*A*S*H reruns on TV. I remember seeing E.T. at the drive-in movie. I remember Ronald Reagan, the Challenger explosion, and the end of the Cold War. 

1980s Montgomery was not only mine but also Mayor Folmar’s city, with an implied “no questions asked” attitude. The ongoing shift to the city’s east, which began in the 1970s, continued. That white flight then enhanced the need for majority/minority busing of kids across the city to ensure public schools were “diverse” and “equitable” because neighborhoods still weren’t. Without school uniforms, clothes and school supplies indicated status; there was no way of hiding from it. And while there may have been diversity in our schools, it was rarely in our neighborhoods and never at our churches. 

I know now about the missed opportunities for learning in the places where movements happened, right here, within minutes of my home. The collective “we” now says that my past freedom to roam no longer exists, but as an adult, I know it existed in large part for me because of my skin and nature of my city.  There were school-condoned spankings by teachers and administrators to which my adult self draws similarities to the “law and order” ideal growing stronger and to the systematic injustices in politics and the criminal justice system.  

I remember all of this with appreciation and now deeply consider what it was in retrospect.  Today, I am a full-fledged adult in a middle-class neighborhood, married with my own two children. Although my childhood memories still bring me joy, they also contain realizations of just how much wasn’t discussed or disclosed in a place full of misrepresented history. My memories are filtered through a child’s eyes, and those are wonderful. However, my adult eyes see and my adult mind knows what wasn’t clear to the child’s eyes, and why it matters.  This is what it means to grow up: to see wider perspectives, understand the causes and effects, dig deeper into the whys and hows. 

1980s Montgomery is now considered history. In some ways, I feel robbed, as if I lived that decade in the haze of a lie— a decade that promised safety, security, and prosperity, but was actually playing pretend.  It is the universal pretending by the adults of 1980s, in Montgomery, in Alabama, and in the nation, that are what I now contemplate . . . pretending that issues were a thing of the past, pretending that we had all moved on, pretending there was no need for “those” conversations. I am thankful that my part in that pretending is over, that I can look back on childhood, and, while being thankful, still be open to the reality of what it actually was.


Adrienne Gaines was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, with a few childhood years also spent in Autaugaville, Alabama.  She has recently discovered an outlet in writing.

Revved Up Like a What?: Thank You to the STJ Class of 1992

by Vallie Lynn Watson

My favorite music was produced between the years 1968 and 1986, the latter year mostly due to the usual early-teen nostalgia about pop radio. I was born in 1973 to parents in their late thirties; my brother and sister were born in the 1950s. We lived all over the US and the world, until my parents retired and moved to their very Deep Southern hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, a place I’d only known by our yearly visits. I had spent an exciting sixth grade year in a public junior high in Houston, where my class numbered in the hundreds and exhibited some racial diversity. Upon beginning seventh grade, I found myself among thirty-nine white and one black native Montgomerians who had known each other since kindergarten, and who knew to stand when a teacher walked into the room. Any confidence I’d gained in my twelve short years was shot. I was lost.

The Song with the Funky Break

The year was 1986, and I clutched tightly onto the little music I knew at that time: I played, over and over, the dozens of cassettes I’d recorded from my favorite Houston radio station. I can’t recite, from memory, what songs were on those tapes until I hear one elsewhere. Then, I even remember, as it’s ending, what would have played after it. Any time I hear Banarama’s “Cruel Summer,” I will always expect Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages” to rudely cut in after the line “So I had to get up and go,” a timing error I’d made on one of those recordings.

But Mama, That’s Where the Fun Is

From my current, comfortable perch of middle-age, I know that the new school was full of lovely people who tried to include me, and who treated me more kindly than most thirteen-year-olds are capable. But I was a hormonal teenager, determined to be miserable there, and after two years, I finally convinced my reluctant parents to beginninth grade at another private school, this one slightly more diverse and relaxed. I made friends immediately.

Where They Expect it Least

The year was 1988, the music was shit. Over the next four years, our small class adopted Manfred Mann’s 1984 “Blinded by the Light” as our unofficial song, and we tentatively worked backwards from there, exploring first the generic ’70s classic rock that played on 95.1 FM, but then branching out into the B-sides, as we gained the ability to browse and purchase music from the mall music store. Our class felt compartmentalized, not so much out of divisiveness, but teenage apathy, and sometimes it felt like our odd anthem was the only thing we all shared. In retrospect, I see the fluidity of those compartments, and a lot of my overlap will forever be bound to music. My first parentless concert – Eric Clapton – with Deanne. Exchanging mixed tapes with Stephanie to cope with our respective breakups. These musical connections bound us through college and beyond.

With a Teenage Diplomat

The year was 1995, and we were no longer teenagers who saw each other daily, but young adults who instead regrouped during holidays and summers. On August 9, in an order that I don’t remember, I learned that Jerry Garcia died, and that my mother had only a few months left to live. That evening, alone in our big house, I sat on my bathroom floor in the dark and called a handful of friends to let them know about my mom.

Trey – senior prom date/sometimes best friend/sometimes greatest antagonist – answered amongst noise, and explained that some of our friends were at his apartment, listening to the Grateful Dead and celebrating Jerry. Trey knew that I wouldn’t want to deal with the crowd, and offered to meet me at the nearby church – my church, the church where I would later marry an STJ boy from a different class – to walk around. I declined, but I still imagine that ghost-walk better than if we’d actually met that night. Knowing I had a tribe was all I needed.

She’s Gonna Make it Through the Night

Thank you, STJ class of 1992. You gave me music again, and you made me feel at home. And a belated thank you, MA Class of 1992. You starred the incomparable Meg, one of my best friends, and I wish I’d taken the time to get to know the rest of you better.

Finally, a belated apology to Bruce Springsteen—I didn’t know until a good ten years after graduation that you wrote our anthem, and recorded a much better version of it. Manfred Mann left out one of your best lines: “Asked him which was the way back home.” I know who to call on, any time I need home.