Story at a glance

  • New Jersey’s governor and leading legislators announce support to change the public job title.
  • This follows other states and cities working to eradicate the imprint of slavery in the U.S.

In light of a nationwide racial reckoning sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of police and ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, New Jersey is looking to remove its archaic title of “county freeholder” as a job description. 

 

 

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Governor Phil Murphy (D) and two Democratic leaders in the state congress announced on Thursday that they will support legislation that would strip the “outdated” title and replace it with the more neutral county commissioner title, USA Today reports.

“County freeholder” is a term unique to New Jersey that stems from the Colonial era in American history. It reportedly comes from the Old English term that referred to a person who owned an estate of land over which they had complete control. Eventually it evolved into a term denoting those eligible to hold public office, a privilege only given to white men in the colonial era. 


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Following in the renewed scrutiny over monuments of confederate leaders, flags and colonizers who perpetuated systemic racism in the U.S., progressive lawmakers do not think the term has a place in the 21st century. 

“As our nation tears down symbols of injustice, we must also tear down words we use in New Jersey that were born from racism," Gov. Murphy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said in a joint 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.”

The role name is unique to New Jersey. There are 21 counties that elect a freeholder, who work to regulate finances and policies in their respective counties. 

While women and people of color have held positions of county freeman, the New Jersey legislature finds that the term still connotes older ideals of misogyny and white supremacy.  

The last attempt to revoke the name as an official role was proposed in 2018 and passed the Senate, but stalled in the Assembly. 


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Published on Jul 10, 2020