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,” said 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.
“The old title
was confusing and leftover 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,” Director Hopson said. “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.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed the legislation requiring counties to make the
change today. 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.
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.
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 that 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. “Today’s name change is a small but important
step in our collective mission to bring about real equality for all.”
Photo: Burlington County Board Director
Felicia Hopson speaks from a podium with a revised County seal, which no longer
displays the name “Board of Chosen Freeholders.”