Citing term’s racist roots, NJ to stop calling county leaders Freeholders

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during his daily press conference discussing COVID-19, Friday, June 5, 2020 . (Chris Pedota/The Record via AP, Pool)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced this week his support for a bill that would phase out the use of the word “Freeholder” to describe the politicians who lead New Jersey’s counties, citing the word’s racist past.

The bill, sponsored by Senators Stephen Sweeney and Joseph Pennacchio, would rename “board of chosen freeholders” to “board of county commissioners” and “freeholder” and “chosen freeholder” to “County commissioner” and would require counties to update materials to reflect the title change.

“It is important that we erase the terminology that reflects racist attitudes & eliminate the vestigates of discriminatory practices,” Sweeney said in a tweet.

The term “Freeholder” can be found in the state’s 1776 constitution, defining a Freeholder as “worth at least one thousand Pounds proclamation Money.” At the time that the state’s constitution was written, only white men could own land and become freeholders. 

“As our nation tears down symbols of injustice, we must also tear down words we use in New Jersey that were born from racism. It’s past time for New Jersey to phase out the term ‘freeholder’ from our public discourse –  a term coined when only white male landowners could hold public office,” Murphy said in a statement. “This is not a matter of political correctness; it is a corrective action to replace an outdated designation that is rooted in institutional prejudice.”


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