TRENTON, NJ – Governor Phil Murphy is on a roll, today he announced he will be working with legislative Democrats in Trenton to abolish the word “Freeholder” from the term used to define county-level elected officials.
“As our nation tears down symbols of injustice, let us tear down words born from racism,” he said, noting the term is a racist word. “Proud to stand with Steve Sweeney and Speaker Craig Coughlin to phase out the word “freeholder” – coined when only white male landowners could hold office. #BlackLivesMatter. Grateful to Freeholder Angela Garretson for her support and vision on this issue.”
A freeholder is an elected, part-time legislator at the county level of government and every county in the state has them.
According to the Mercer County Chosen Board of Freeholders, the title “freeholder” is derived from an Old English term used to refer to a person who owned an estate of land, free of debt. The title was adopted in New Jersey during the Colonial period when only those who owned real estate free of debt were eligible to participate in elections or hold public office. New Jersey is the only state that retains the title of “freeholder” to denote the elected members of the county governing body.
The definition of freeholder does not infer in any way that these debt-free landowners were to have owned slaves to become a freeholder.
Once the change is made, how much will it cost each county to rename the positions? Those names are on everything including park signs, literature, vehicles and building signs. There’s a real cost associated with the name change which could run statewide into the millions of dollars across the board.