Burlington County Board Director Felicia Hopson announced the county has immediately started implementing a new state law requiring counties to end the use of the old title of “chosen freeholder” in favor of a new one, “county commissioner.”
“Two years ago, on New Year’s Day, I proudly swore an oath to serve the residents of Burlington County as their elected freeholder, becoming only the third person of color to hold the county office and just the second Black woman. Today I’m proud to permanently lose that title and take on a new one, county commissioner,” Hopson, who was one of the first county leaders to endorse the name change this year after Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders announced their support for the change, said in a statement released on Aug. 21.
“The old title was confusing and left over from an age when only White male property owners could hold elected office. As late as 1865, that property could include Black men, women and children,” Hopson said in the statement. “Just because something is seen as tradition does not necessarily make it right so I’m thankful for Gov. Murphy and our Legislature for finally making this change. It may seem like a small thing, but it sends a message that racism in any form or from any era is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated.”
The full board voted unanimously to approve a resolution expressing its complete support of the legislation on Aug. 12.
Murphy signed the legislation requiring counties to make the change on Aug. 21. In response, Hopson directed all county departments to immediately begin implementation.
Updates to the county website, social media pages and other electronic communications are under way and the county has also started phasing out other materials, including letterhead, stationary and small displays, according to the statement.
Under the county’s plans, signage and other materials will be updated over time under the county’s normal replacement schedule so that the county does not incur any significant additional expense.
Freeholder is an Old English term dating back to before the American Revolution to denote a person who owns land and is free of debt, which was a requirement to hold public office. At the time, only White men could own property and serve.
Hopson and other leaders believe the title is rooted in an era of discrimination and inequality and was also confusing to many residents, according to the statement.
In addition to endorsing the name change, the county board recently formed a new Minority and Equality Rights Task Force to devise ways the county can combat systemic racism and support equality. Hopson is among the first 15 members who were appointed to the group last week.
“We’re committed to having the important conversations about race and discrimination and also to taking action to bring about racism’s end,” Hopson said in the statement. “Today’s name change is a small but important step in our collective mission to bring about real equality for all.”