‘Born From Racism,’ Murphy, Sweeney Move to End Uses of ‘Freeholder’ term


By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

TRENTON – Calling it a term “born from racism,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement Thursday he is working with New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney and House Speaker Craig Coughlin to do away with the county official term of “freeholder.”

The term freeholder currently refers to elected county government official, known as commissioners in other states around the country. Murphy said the freeholder turn is “outdated” and its time to it to be done away with.

“As our nation tears down symbols of injustice, we must also tear down words we use in New Jersey that were born from racism,” Murphy said in his statement. “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.

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“This is not a matter of political correctness; it is a corrective action to replace an outdated designation that is rooted in institutional prejudice,” he added.

Freeholder, or Freehold comes from English common law referring to common ownership of real property, such as land or slaves. Only white men who owned such property could vote originally in elections in the United States.

“The time has come to change the name of freeholder to commissioner in order to do away with a title that is mired in the language of slavery,” Sweeney said in a statement. “It is important that we erase the terminology that reflects racist attitudes in order to eliminate the vestiges of discriminatory practices. Let’s catch up with the rest of the world and call these officials who serve in public positions ‘commissioners.'”

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The bill, S-855, will be considered by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee at its next meeting on July 16, requiring counties in New Jersey to change the title of “chosen freeholder” to “county commissioner” and “board of chosen freeholders” to “board of county commissioners.”

It would also require counties to update their letterheads, stationery, websites and other writings within one year, but it would not have them replace signs or other writings if it would require the expenditure of county funds.

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