PLEASANTVILLE — Mary Parker had a hard time believing the amount of love and appreciation her late father received Saturday.
Around noon, dozens of members of the State Burner’s Motorcycle Club converged on the Atlantic City Cemetery on Washington Avenue for the club’s 75th anniversary.
Freddie Parker, Mary’s father, who died in 2006, founded the club in Atlantic City in 1946. It was the first Black motorcycle club established on the East Coast, and has since expanded to at least 17 chapters across a number of states.
“It’s still sinking in that this is happening,” Mary Parker, of Atlantic City, said as the roar of motorcycles surrounded her, “and I believe that he deserves every bit of the honor.”
During the brief ceremony, club members spoke of the importance of paying tribute to Freddie, who went by “Coffee” in the club, and remembering their history. Club patches from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia could be seen among the riders as they huddled around his gravestone. The family also was presented with a “resolution of respect” from the club.
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Just a few weeks ago, however, the club had a hard time finding the grave for the occasion. Most of the original members have died, leaving the younger generations to dig deep into local archives during the search.
It all started when Mark “Fudge” Nutter, president of the Richmond, Virginia, chapter, reached out to a prospect from an Illinois chapter and asked him to find Coffee.
“A week later, he sent me his obituary,” Nutter said. “I got his obituary and made a couple calls. I called (club member Laberne “Undertaker” Hicks) and told him, ‘Hey, man, we got his obituary. We have an idea where he’s at. We need to go and find him.’”
When they were able to pinpoint the cemetery, they were faced with another hurdle: Freddie’s grave wasn’t in the books for some reason. That led to several members having to take matters into their own hands.
“Apparently, this was a brand new section (of the cemetery),” said Hicks, of Pennsauken. “So where the gravesite is, this is one of the first graves in here, but he has a grave number not in any of the books. We were running around looking for a number that doesn’t exist, so we spent like three hours out here walking sections to find it.”
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Freddie Parker was born in Townsend, Georgia, in 1928. After a short time with the Navy, he moved to Pleasantville with his parents and eventually founded the State Burner’s with six other riders in Atlantic City.
The name was inspired by the group’s travels between Philadelphia and New Jersey. As they crossed state lines, they would often do burnouts at the toll booths to slide their bikes across the road, coining the phrase “burning rubber from state to state.”
The club has since committed itself to community service. Chapters have held “trunk or treat” events, food drives and even offer scholarships to high school students.
Charles Henson joined the club 57 years ago after a chance encounter with Freddie in Philadelphia. He’s served as the national president since 1968 and is considered the last original member of the Burner’s.
“He gave me a whole new outlook on life,” said Henson, also known as “Cowboy” for his past as a participant in stunt riding competitions.
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Henson, 79, said he began doing competitions just a year after learning how to ride a motorcycle, inspired by Freddie. They met on Market Street, and Freddie introduced himself and his three sons to Henson. The ensuing conversation led to Henson saving up his money to buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle he had no idea how to ride at the time, but Freddie was there to show him the ropes early on.
The Philadelphia native said he remembers Freddie as a gentleman, a good rider and a lover of wine.
His family has continued to keep the Parker name in the State Burner’s. Mary said she grew up on a motorcycle and rode on her father’s until she got her own.
“I don’t have any pictures of him and I,” she said, “because I was on the bike.
“(He was) fun, very strict, hard working and he took care of all of his children. He was great dad.”
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