TRENTON, NJ - Removing the title “freeholder” from New Jersey’s 21 county legislative boards would mean the country’s full eradication of the term which dates to colonial times, and has been called outdated, insensitive and racist.
Union County Freeholder Angela Garretson has been pushing for the change and broached the subject with Gov. Phil Murphy and State Senate President Stephen Sweeney during an event at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in Hillside on Thursday.
Garretson, who among others has lobbied for the change in year’s past, also reportedly made the suggestion to Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin recently.
Somerset County Freeholder Director Shanel Robinson, and Deputy Freeholder Director Sara Sooy addressed the issue during the Freeholders Reorganization meeting in January, attended by Murphy, where he administered their oath of office.
“It is high time this name went into the dustbin of history and I'm very happy we're going to do it, I hope sooner than later,” Murphy said Friday during his coronavirus press briefing.
On Thursday, the state's three top Democrats issued a joint statement:
“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.
This is not a matter of political correctness; it is a corrective action to replace an outdated designation that is rooted in institutional prejudice.”
A proposed bill would alter the title from Board of Chosen Freeholders to the Chosen Board of County Commissioners. The bill is to be considered next Thursday by a Senate committee.
The centuries-old term "freeholder” derives from an old English term and harkens back to colonial America.
According to New Jersey's first constitution, adopted on July 2, 1776, two days before the Declaration of Independence, a county representative must be worth, “fifty pounds proclamation money, clear estate in the same and have resided in the county in which they claim a vote for twelve months immediately preceding the election."
At the time, African American slaves and women were not able to own property, and thus were prevented from holding public office.
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