Burlington, ‘Cradle of Abolitionist Movement,’ to Nix Freeholder Title
Burlington County will get ahead of the state and will immediately phase out use of the term "freeholder" for the elected leaders of county governments.
Gov. Phil Murphy, state Senate president Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin announced their support on July 9 for legislation to change the term to "commissioner" as part of an effort to "tear down words we use in New Jersey that were born from racism."
The term "freeholder" was a term used when only white male landowners could hold public office.
Burlington County Freeholder Director Felicia Hopson said the board would stop using the term in its communications immediately. A resolution will be introduced at the next freeholder meeting on Aug. 12 to eliminate the term on the county’s website, social media, letterhead, stationary, signage and other materials as they come up for replacement.
A bill sponsored by state Sens. Sweeney, R-Gloucester, Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, and Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, will be heard by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs on Thursday but Hopson doesn't want to wait for the Legislature.
The bill has been around since 2011 and was passed by the Senate in 2018 but the Assembly didn’t take it up.
"Burlington County will not stand idly by and wait for change to be forced on us. Retiring this relic title from a period of slavery is the right thing to do and our county will lead the way in the implementation of this historic change," Hopson said.
“Burlington County was a cradle of the abolitionist movement and home to several stops along the Underground Railroad, and we will once again lead the way by proactively eliminating this vestige of discrimination.”
Michael Symons contributed to this report.