Novel 'Separate Fountains' reveals Jonesboro's history

By Ed Brock

Patti Wilson Byars didn't mean to write her book "Separate Fountains," a fictionalized account of her life in Jonesboro in the 1940s and 1950s.

Her mother came to stay with her for a while and the two began talking about the old days in Byars' home town. They talked about the racial divide, about the Ku Klux Klan marching through town, and about all the social tumult that affected them as white residents of Jonesboro and the relationship they had with black people in their lives.

"Every time we talked about something I'd write it down," said Byars, now 63 years old and living in Florida. "After a five-year period I had about 500 pages."

And with the encouragement of friends and colleagues at Florida State University, where Byars is an adjunct instructor, she compiled "Separate Fountains" in 1999.

It's not a book on racism, Byars said during a talk last week with the Clayton College and State University's Women's Forum.

"It's got some racist issues in it, but if you lived in the South in the '40s and '50s you lived through some racial issues," Byars said.

As her book shows, racism and segregation did affect Byars personally during her childhood. Her young brother was sick with polio at one point and the family's housekeeper, a black woman, wanted to come see him. She couldn't, however, because he was at the hospital for whites only.

Another tale from Byars' book involves the reason why her father encouraged her to spend time with the young boy who shined shoes for all the men in town.

"When the Klan marched in the summer time we looked at everybody's shoes to see who we could identify," Byars said. "Back when I was growing up everybody only had two pairs of shoes, one for church and one for every day wear."

One story not included in Byars' book is the stand Jonesboro resident Lucy Huie took against the KKK.

"I can still remember when she stood up at the PTA meeting and talked about integrating our schools," Byars said about Huie. "The Klan burned a cross on her yard later that night."

That was par for the course at the time, Huie said.

"We had several crosses burned here," Huie said.

Usually the Klan burned crosses on one night of the week, Huie said, but she isn't sure now if it was Friday or Saturday nights. But Huie, who won't reveal her age but says she's been living in Jonesboro since 1947, said Byars' book brought back plenty of memories for her.

"She calls it a novel but it's essentially the way it was," Huie said.

In fact, when she first started writing "Separate Fountains" Byars used the real names of the people included in the book.

"One day (my brother) called me and said 'Have you lost your mind?'" Byars said. "'Some of those people aren't going to appreciate you revealing their secrets.'"

In the published version of the book "the names have been changed to protect the guilty," Byars said. Of course, her name has been changed as well, so the 12-year-old female character Katie Jane Taylor represents Byars.

But Byars said her intent was not to write about the bad things that happened then. The book is a love story, the story of her mother and father.

"My book basically shows the goodness of people," Byars said.

For example, when her brother was sick somebody slipped an envelope under the door of the local grocery store every week for almost two years to buy their groceries.

"And we never really knew who did it," Byars said.

"Separate Fountains" is available at the Barnes&Nobles bookstore in Morrow and at other major bookstores. Byars also has a Web site, www.pattiwilsonbyars.com.

A percentage of the profits from the book go to the "Separate Fountains Endowed Scholarship Fund."