Max Elson Guydon

Guydon—Max Elson Guydon, 93, on October 13, 2019, in Chalfont, Pa., peacefully. Max was born on April 16, 1926, in Clarendon, Ark., to Willie Hunt and John Henry Guydon, sharecroppers. In exchange for clearing a parcel of land, his father had rent-free use of it for five years. Then as a “3rd and 4th man,” he kept a third of the cotton and a fourth of the corn he grew. Max’s parents raised him in the local African Methodist Episcopal Church, and their struggles fostered his lifelong work ethic. He left school at grade eight because his parents could not afford the sole option for local African Americans beyond that grade: a private school 20 miles away in Fargo, Ark. His father died when he was 14, and Max left sharecropping to work in a cooperage making oak staves for whiskey barrels.

In 1945, in the U.S. Navy, he worked as a stevedore on Guam, in the Mariana Islands. After discharge from the navy in 1946, he returned to Arkansas, he and his beloved brother Earl built a house for their mother, and he returned to work at the cooperage. In 1947 he and Earl joined two sisters and a brother in Philadelphia. For three years he worked for a bricklaying contractor, originally wanting to become an apprentice bricklayer, but discovering that only cement-finishing, the most physically demanding of the skilled jobs, was open to African Americans. In 1949, he married Mildred Winters, of Media, Pa., who worked at American Friends Service Committee with Lawrence McK. Miller, a founding member of Doylestown (Pa.) Meeting. Advocacy for equality, abolition, and civil rights drew him to the Religious Society of Friends. “Larry Miller was the first white man that ever shook my hand!” he said.

Mildred worked for Larry until her first child was born in 1950. Then she and Max bought a small grocery store in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood and lived above it. From 1950 to 1952 he was a hod carrier for a plastering contractor. “Hardest work I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. Then he worked as a welder for the Budd Company, which manufactured car parts, trolleys, and Amtrak trains.

In 1955 he and Mildred bought an acre of land in Chalfont, Pa., and after selling their grocery store, built a house there in 1957. At the prompting of Larry Miller, he started attending Doylestown Meeting in 1958. With the persistent encouragement of Doylestown Meeting over the years, he became a member in 2004.

His work on the farm as a child had sown the seeds for a lifelong love of gardening, and he always had a small garden, experimenting with different types of plants, even delighting his children one year by growing peanuts. He enjoyed hunting and fishing and taught his granddaughters to love fishing. Believing it important that young people understand the legacy of discrimination fostered by slavery and the Jim Crow South, he visited schools to share his story of growing up in the segregated South of the 1930s and ’40s. He retired from Budd in 1982, and he and Mildred bought an adjoining acre to increase the size of his garden, which became so productive he was able to sell produce in Philadelphia, Pa. Residents saved three spots in the Germantown neighborhood for him to park his overflowing pickup truck.

Max’s life of overcoming—but not forgetting—prejudice is inspiring. Mildred passed away on February 19, 2019. He is survived by two children, Lynda Taylor (David) and Max Guydon Jr.; three grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and a sister, Lorell Guydon.

Previous Article Next Article