Alfreda L. Macon, 102, civil rights pioneer who helped integrate Frankford Arsenal

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Alfreda L. Macon, a trailblazer who helped break the color line at the Frankford Arsenal during World War II with the first group of black employees, had a favorite saying that she applied to her daily life: “Never take anything sitting down.”

An executive order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt prohibiting discrimination in defense jobs or government opened doors for blacks to land jobs at the arsenal in Philadelphia’s Bridesburg section and in plants and factories across the country.

Mrs. Macon was among a group of six black women who integrated the arsenal, where she made ammunition and uniforms, friends and family members said. They endured the sting of racism from white co-workers, who resented their employment.

“It was met with great resistance, even though it was something that was ordered,” said Danielle Thomas, a longtime neighbor and caregiver.

Mrs. Macon, 102, died April 4, at her Moorestown home. She was born on Feb. 6, 1914, but the wrong year was placed on her birth certificate so she used 1915 as her official year.

With the country on the brink of war in 1941, there was a huge need to fill defense manufacturing jobs around the country. Blacks, however, were denied employment, or relegated to menial service positions.

Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 banning racial discrimination by employers with government contracts. Mrs. Macon helped integrate the arsenal, retiring after more than 30 years. The arsenal closed in 1977.

Born in Bartow County, FLorida, Mrs. Macon moved to Philadelphia with her family at age 3, along with four siblings. She graduated from Simon Gratz High School in 1936.

She met her future husband, Eugene, when she was 17. He was heading off to serve in the war in 1941 in the U.S. Army, but promised her, “If you’re around when I come back I’m going to  marry you.”

The couple was married for 36 years and adopted a son, Charles. Eugene Macon died in 1980.

In 1961, the couple moved to Moorestown, where Eugene, a postal worker, built a four-bedroom home  in a wooded area in the then largely undeveloped Burlington County community. Mrs. Macon lived there until her death.

There, too, Mrs. Macon encountered racism, according to Thomas. A cross was burned on the lawn of another family just across the street, she said.

A civil rights activist, Mrs. Macon participated in marches and was acquainted with the family of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas said.

“She was one of those who fought for equal rights,” said Sonia Williams, her caregiver. Mrs. Macon faced challenges she encountered by saying, “They have to beat me down,” Williams said.

After retiring, Mrs. Macon enjoyed traveling around the world with her husband. She meticulously tended to her lawn and well into her ‘90s and would often be seen operating a leaf blower to clear the fall foliage, Thomas said.

It was not uncommon to see Mrs. thomas running errands in town in her dark green Buick LeSabre with her initials engraved on the side, Thomas said. Feisty and independent, Mrs. Macon reluctantly agreed to let Williams move in about six years ago to oversee her care.

Mrs. Macon joined Bethel AME Church in Moorestown in 1964. She was the oldest of three centenarians at the church, which held a surprise celebration for her 100th birthday, said Rev. Stanley Hearst Sr.,  

“She was a very fine, classy lady,” Hearst said. “Everybody loved her.”

Mrs. Macon credited her longevity to a healthy lifestyle. She enjoyed eating fresh vegetables and rarely ate meat.

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” she told the Moorestown Sun in a 2016 interview. “Everyone has his or her ups and downs, but I’ve survived it all. I can thank the Lord for that.”

In addition to her son, Mrs. Macon is survived by a granddaughter, Victoria Talbert, a grandson, Charles Talbert, and a host of other relatives.

A viewing will be held Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., followed by services at Bethel AME Church, 512 N. Church St., Moorestown. Interment will be at Rolling Green Memorial Park, 1008 West Chester Pike,  West Chester, Pa.

Condolences may be left at an online guest book maintained by Walter E. Sabbath Jr. Funeral Service.

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