Mr. Leland was 5’7”, weighed 140 pounds in his 70s, and looked in silhouette like a 14 year old boy not finshed growing, but I heard tales about him that were greatly different from the Grandpa I thought I knew. I never knew him to drive a car nor a tractor. He farmed land that had belonged to his father that was almost a mile from a gravel road.
But politicians from Montgomery made their way to his out of the way farm to request his support in their election campaigns. He wasn’t rich, was not a society person, yet influential people came to seek his help. He served as Beat Committeeman for the Democratic Party for 65 years; he was a constable even longer . He was re-elected every four years.
Rumors said when a fight happened at a dance, someone would go after John Leland Barton to settle things down. It was said he’d walk in and say, O.K. boys, that’s enough “and the fighters would back away from each other. I asked him what kind of gun he carried as constable.
He replied “If you always say what you mean and mean what you say, you don’t have to carry a gun.” It didn’t make sense when he said it to me and doesn’t really make sense to me now, but it worked. Maybe it was because folks knew when you had a family member dying, he would come sit with the family, then help get things ready for the funeral. If a house burned , he would help fight the fire and bring his tools to help you rebuild. He’d bring his wife, Miss Mamie, over in his wagon to help bring a baby into the world, or help doctor your only horse that was injured. None of his children were seen giving him back talk, yet he didn’t holler or make a lot of threats. He just looked straight at people and they listened.
In 1985, Tuscaloosa News Staff Writer, Bob Kyle, wrote a news story entitled “Little Bit of Rough Weather Can’t Stop This Democrat” about “J. L. Barton, 88, of Ralph, Alabama. Five inches of snow would not prevent him from showing up.. Barton said he had a duty to do, so he got his son, A.B. Barton to drive him to the scheduled meeting of the Tuscaloosa County Democratic Executive Committee. He was one of the oldest members of the group and the only one that showed up at the court house that Saturday morning.
The picture that accompanied the article showed him heavier since he had stopped doing his own plowing. His lined face was as determined as ever.
The article quoted, “Yes, sir, I started out as a Democrat and I’m going to end up as one. I have a lot of friends who claim they are Republicans, but I don’t hold anything against them. I’ll like them as long as they don’t try to convince me.’
Barton went on to tell of his nine children, eight still living, 28 grandchildren and 36 great grandchildren, and many of the next generations. People come from all over the Southeasst seeking his extensive memory of family relationships to complete their family trees.
At the age of 95, he was recovering from a broken hip at a local nursing home when family members were called.in because his heart was failing. I drove my mother to the home. When we entered his room two other daughters were there. He looked at me and winked and said, “This must be the day I’m to kick the bucket to get so many folks over today.” He joked about his own death until his breath got too short for him to talk. He told a grandson that when my grandmother got dementia he knelt by her bed and asked God to let him live long enough to care for her. He said, “If I’d known I’d live this long I wouldn’t have prayed so hard.”
He was buried with his 50 year Masonic pin in front of the church where he had been Sunday School Superintendent and where he had been married 73 years before.