By Andre Jones
Pastor John Henry Barrett was shot in the neck and spine 59 years ago – and is just now dying of his wounds.
In 1958, a young John Henry Barrett was shot in his back during an altercation with a friend. The resulting injury, while not immediately fatal, left Barrett partially paralyzed for the remainder of his life, requiring him to walk with a cane. The friend, whose name is undisclosed, served time in prison for the incident and Barrett went on to become pastor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church for the last 30 years of his life.
Barrett’s injuries forced him to give up his job as a farm worker, which he considered a blessing. “I don’t believe I’ll ever completely recover,” Barrett told The Miami Herald in a 1974 interview, “But if the accident hadn’t happened, I would have spent all of my life as a farm worker.”
Barrett’s family spoke of him with admiration and respect, all unanimously stating how Barrett refused to be defined by his circumstances. “He always told my brother and myself, no matter how dire your circumstances, your mind has the ability to overcome anything,” his great-nephew Robert Lee told my PalmBeachPost, “His life is an example.” Barrett earned an Associate’s Degree from then named Palm Beach Junior College (now Palm Beach State College), eventually became executive director of Pahokee Housing Authority, and ended up in what would be his lifelong career as a pastor.
Barrett succumbed to complications from paraplegia including septic shock and urinary tract infection at the age of 77 – nearly 60 years after sustaining the injuries that would later contribute to his death. According to the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s report, Barrett’s injuries were the direct result of the gunshot wound he sustained in 1958 and were forced to include his death in the number of homicides for the year. After looking into the case, detectives determined that they couldn’t arrest the shooter for homicide due to “double jeopardy” laws which prohibit a second prosecution for the same offense.
Family members told The Palm Beach Post that Barrett rarely spoke about the shooting but used what happened to him to inspire others. “He never wanted to be looked upon as (being disabled),” another great-nephew, Terrance Lee explains. “He wanted to be looked up to as a normal person in society. That’s the way he lived his life.”