John Leslie Patton, Jr., African-American teacher, principal, and author, was born on May 19, 1905, to John Leslie Patton, Sr., and Ella Thomas Patton in Dallas. Patton and his older sisters, John Ella and Marqueriette, attended Bethel A.M.E. Kindergarten and Dallas public schools for their early education. Patton attended the Dallas Colored High School where teacher Portia Washington Pittman, the daughter of Booker T. Washington, provided an early influence for him. He graduated in 1922, the same year the Dallas Colored High School was relocated into a new building and renamed Booker T. Washington High School. Patton then enrolled at Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University), where he served as an officer in the Reserve Officers Training Corps. He received his teaching certificate in 1924, and in 1926 he earned a bachelor of arts degree. He later did post graduate work at New York University and Southern Methodist University.
Around 1926 Patton took a teaching position at J. P. Starks Elementary School in Dallas. In 1928 he joined the faculty at his alma mater, Booker T. Washington High School, where he taught history. Seeking to expand the school curriculum to include information about the achievements of black historical figures, Patton developed a course about African-American history in 1933, and subsequently he authored A Student’s Outline Guide for the Study of Negro History. Patton and colleague H. I. Holland revised the book in 1939. They outlined the purpose of the course in the revised edition:
The course in Negro History was intended to serve the following purposes: (1) to give Negro youth a better understanding of the struggles and problems which the Negro race has encountered in America; (2) to give a greater appreciation of the progress and contributions which the Negro has achieved; (3) to show that the Negro has formed an integral part of the American civilization; (4) to awaken a proper social consciousness and pride in the developments and achievements which the Negro has made; and (5) to stimulate in Negro youth a proper desire to achieve greater freedom and greater accomplishments.
Patton became principal of Booker T. Washington High School in 1939. Upon his appointment, he added his black history curriculum to the permanent course work for all students. Under his leadership, he instituted the inclusion of college preparatory courses for returning servicemen on the GI Bill, the addition of business and technical classes in night-school programs, as well as the implementation of vocational training and work-study programs. Patton also served as assistant director of the Dallas Public Evening Schools and director of the Adult Civil Defense Program. He was principal at Booker T. Washington for a total of thirty years.
Patton was very active in the Dallas community, including the local chapter of the NAACP, Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce, and Teachers State Association of Texas. He was a longtime member of Bethel AME Church and served as a trustee and frequent public speaker. His numerous affiliations, awards, and memberships included: board of management, Moorland branch YMCA; a trustee of the Dallas Public Library; National Youth Program Committee for the National Council of the YMCA; Distinguished Alumni Award, Prairie View A&M College; Citizenship Award, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity; Life Member Award, National Congress Colored Parents and Teachers; Life Member Award, National Education Association; Citation, National Foundation of the March of Dimes; Citation, Dallas Teachers Council; member, Boy Scouts of America; member, Free and Accepted Masons; member, Phi Delta Kappa; member, Knights of Pythias; member, Dallas School Administrators Association.
In 1969 Patton left his position as principal to become the deputy assistant superintendent of personnel and community relations for the Dallas Independent School District. He was the first African American to receive a top administrative appointment in the DISD. He served for three years but soon retired due to recurring illness. Patton died in Dallas on July 19, 1971. He was survived by his wife, Eva Stanton Patton, and a stepdaughter, Bobbie Franklin Wells. He was buried in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Dallas. The John Leslie Patton, Jr. Elementary School was established in his honor by the DISD in 1976.