Campaign flyer from Joe’s first Chapel Hill Town Council race, 1979

About Joe

My photo
Chapel Hill, N.C., United States
Joe Herzenberg was born June 25, 1941, to Morris & Marjorie Herzenberg. His father owned the town pharmacy in Franklin, N.J., where Joe grew up. After he graduated from Yale University in 1964, Joe went to Mississippi to register voters for Freedom Summer. He joined the faculty of historically black Tougaloo College, where he was appointed chair of the history department. Joe arrived in Chapel Hill in 1969 to enroll as a graduate student in history at the University of North Carolina, and, along with his partner Lightning Brown, soon immersed himself in local, state, and national politics. Although Joe’s first campaign for the Chapel Hill Town Council in 1979 was unsuccessful, he was appointed to the Council to fill a vacant seat and served until 1981. In 1987, he was elected to the Council, becoming the former Confederacy's first openly gay elected official. Joe died surrounded by friends on October 28, 2007. He was 66 years old.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Chapel Hill's First Openly-Gay Mayor Reflects On His Home

The State Of Things, January 6, 2014


When Mark Kleinschmidt was a teenager growing up in Goldsboro, NC, he remembers watching the news as activist Joe Herzenberg was elected to the Chapel Hill Town Council. It was this race that made Joe Herzenberg the first openly gay elected official in the South. It was then that Kleinschmidt knew he had to get to Chapel Hill so he could be out and free to be who he wanted. Today, Kleinschmidt is serving his third term as the mayor of Chapel Hill. He's the town's first openly gay mayor. Mark Kleinschmidt talks with Host Frank Stasio about his career as mayor of Chapel Hill and his work as a death penalty litigator.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thank you, Joe Herzenberg

Friends of Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation, September 10, 2012

Joe Herzenberg was a member of the Town Council for many years. When he left the Council he continued to serve the Town by volunteering to serve on numerous boards and committees; especially those that promoted greenways and open space. He served as the chair of the Merritt's Pasture Access Committee. In 2000, the Committee recommended that the Morgan Creek Trail be built and used as the public access to the Pasture. The vision became reality in 2011 when phase one of the Morgan Creek Trail was opened and provided the first legal access to the pasture for Town citizens.

He went on to serve as a member and Chair of the Greenways Commission for seven years. During this time he promoted greenways issues across the entire Town, but especially along Bolin Creek. He was a champion of the concepts of extending the trail, providing public art on the trails, and emphatically, providing more benches.

Joe passed away in 2007, but continued to serve the citizens of Chapel Hill by bequeathing $308,000 to be used for the Bolin Creek Trail and benches. So far the Board of the Friends has authorized the use of these funds to make renovations to the trail, provide wonderful "art" benches, and to design further improvements to the Bolin Creek Trail. Among the future uses of his funds will be a flight of stairs from Franklin Street to the trail that will provide the first real and direct trail access from the north side of Franklin Street.

We remember Joe by making key improvements to the trail he loved and invite others to do the same.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chapel Hill and Homophobia: What Joe Herzenberg Means for North Carolina

LGBT Identities, Communities, and Resistance in North Carolina, 1945-2012, March 27, 2012

By Laura Dunn

Introduction: Chapel Hill

The Chapel Hill area of North Carolina has a long history of liberalism that defies the stereotypical ideas of a regressive South. The school district was the first in North Carolina to desegregate, and in 1968 Chapel Hill elected Howard Lee as the first black mayor of a predominantly white town. In contrast to the national debates over the validity of same-sex marriage, both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have had domestic partnership recognition since 1995, when Mike Nelson was elected in Carrboro to become the state’s first openly gay mayor. Joe Herzenberg’s election was a watershed moment in North Carolinian LGBTQ history. It is a narrative that relies on geography for its history: it is an essentially localised story of the distinctive social and political climate of Chapel Hill.

Joe Herzenberg

In 1987, there was another key milestone: Joe Herzenberg became the first openly gay politician to be elected in North Carolina when he won the election to Chapel Hill town council. It was eleven years after Harvey Milk became the first openly gay politician in the United States, and only nine years after he was assassinated in office. Facing homophobic abuse throughout his career, he nonetheless advocated effectively for the environment, civil liberties, and the preservation of the UNC-CH gay students’ association. In addition, he was a founder of NC Pride PAC, now Equality NC PAC, an association that lobbies for the interests of LGBT people in the state. John Howard’s book Men Like That indicates how radical an act running for office while openly gay was: “gay politicians required a different kind of visibility. Most disturbingly it required a clear-cut identity, individual’s open and public avowal of homosexuality, a speech act that some belligerent lawmakers and law enforcers interpreted as a felony in and of itself[1].” Indeed, at a time that sodomy laws were still on the books, admission of queerness was essentially an acknowledgement of criminality, and was treated as such by opponents. Bob Windsor writes that “Lightning [Brown, another openly gay Chapel Hill politician] confessed…that he is a class H felon in North Carolina[2]," a not uncommon view of homosexuality in a period when certain sexualities were outlawed.

Regionalism: Chapel Hill as Outlier

I found a great deal of opposition to LGBT issues and politicians in my research, some of it startling in its ferocity. One key opponent was the Landmark, a free newspaper that was distributed widely in the run-up to the Hunt-Helms 1984 election “particularly in rural areas[3]." While I initially thought that its vituperiveness would mark it as a fringe endeavour, further research indicates it was “funded by shadowy Helms backers[4],” and ads for Helms’ 1984 campaign were a frequent occurrence in its pages. A recurring idea in contemporary conservative accounts of Herzenberg’s career – such as those found in the pages of Landmark - is that gay activism is unrepresentative of North Carolinian voters, values and concerns. This is couched in stereotypical ideas of regionalism that paints the South as ‘America’s closet’, an area that queerness does not enter into. In my research I found over and over again references to gay politicians being better served by working “in and around the San Francisco area[5],” “Miami... New York City or London[6].” Repeated assertions that they “don’t have too much in common with North Carolina[7]” reinforce this image of state values being at odds with homosexuality and uses geography as potent symbolism. The assertion that goes hand-in-hand with this is of course that Chapel Hill is an isolated bastion of liberalism – as the Landmark puts it “[the fags] have always congregated in Chapel Hill[8]" and “the Gay Rights battle was begun in Orange County and the battle has been led from that quarter[9]."


While some abuse was directed at the openly gay Lightning Brown and Joe Herzenberg (“the Chapel Hill fags[10]"), still more was levelled at Jim Hunt, a politician they supported against Jesse Helms in the 1984 Senate race. This election was marked by vicious negative campaigning, and even Jim Hunt’s marriage was not enough to prevent him from smear campaigns of his rumoured homosexuality[11]. Brown and Herzenberg’s backing was seized upon and used against their candidate: in one televised debate Helms accused Hunt, “You’re supported by people like Joe Herzenberg and Lightning Brown[12]!” This tactic was repeated in 1986, where supporters of the incumbent William W. Cobey Jr. in the 4th Congressional District election challenged his opponent David Price to “have a letterhead printed with CHAPEL HILL PRICE SUPPORTERS Joe Herzenberg and Lightning Brown listed!! Stop hiding your supporters and come out of the closet PROFESSOR PRICE[13]!!” The writer of a contemporary Advocate piece labelled North Carolinian gays “a political albatross[14]," and indeed their support proved a stumbling block for politicians perceived as being under the thumb of a radical queer agenda.

Chapel Hill Post-Herzenberg

Some of this rhetoric persisted into the 1990s (most notably in Jesse Helms’ Senate race against Harvey Gantt, during which he declared that his opponent ”accepted donations from homosexuals[15]") but the election of openly gay Mike Nelson as mayor of Carrboro again highlighted the area’s reputation for trend-bucking liberalism. Openly gay Mark Kleinschmidt, elected mayor of Chapel Hill in 2008, reported minimal homophobic tactics being used against him in the election – saying only that opponent Kevin Wolff, who perjoratively labelled him a Gay Rights Activist, “apparently has not been around long enough to know the town he has moved to[16]." Kleinschmidt credits Herzenberg with influencing his career, recalling that “it was the moment we heard about this guy that we knew we had found our 'home town[17]." Dubbing Herzenberg’s election while out as gay “an audacious political act[18],” he points to the state’s strand of progressive politics as unsettling the stereotypes of the conservative South: “people need to reevaluate what they think of North Carolina[19]." Similarly, Mike Nelson sees the 1987 election as “chang[ing] the South[20]," beginning a trend of gay-friendly liberalism in the area that continues to this day.


1 John Howard. Men Like That. (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press) 2001. 239

2 Bob Windsor.‘Faggots Dominate 4th Congressional Party Convention’ Landmark. 7 June 1984.

3 ‘Death of a Political Hero – Joe Herzenberg (1941-2007)’. 31 Oct 2007. [accessed 27 March 2012]

4 ibid.

5 Henry McMaster campaign spokesman David Thomas quoted in Lightning A. Brown. ‘Homophobic Republican Campaigns Backfire in Carolinas’. 11 Nov 1986.

6 Bob Windsor. ‘Gay Friends of Jim Hunt Attempt Blackmail’. Landmark Vol 2 no 17. Jan 19 1984.

7 Republican spokesman Tom Ballus quoted in Elizabeth Leland. ‘Helms attacks gays’ role in campaign’. Charlotte Observer. 23 Oct 1990.

8 Bob Windsor. ‘Gay Friends of Jim Hunt Attempt Blackmail’. Landmark Vol 2 no 17. 19 Jan 1984.

9 Bob Windsor. ‘Jim Hunt is Sissy, Prissy, Girlish and Effeminate’. Landmark Vol 3 no 3. 5 July 1984.

10 ibid.

11 This sometimes took the form of attacks on gender variance, which was used as an indicator of homosexuality: “can you imagine Jim Hunt taking taking a chew of tobacco and throwing a baseball? Can you imagine him pumping iron or throwing a football? Can you imagine him as a soldier charging up a hill under fire? Can you imagine him engaging in any kind of manly pursuit? I don’t think so.” Bob Windsor. ‘Jim Hunt is Sissy, Prissy, Girlish and Effeminate.’ Landmark vol 3 no 3. 5 July 1984.

12 Quoted in ‘Death of a Political Hero – Joe Herzenberg (1941-2007)’. 31 Oct 2007. [accessed 27 March 2012]

13 Flyer: Committee for Responsible Representation in the 4th Congressional District. 1986. [in Joe Herzenberg papers, Wilson Library Special Collections, UNC Chapel Hill]

14 Peter Frieberg. ‘Hunt-Helms race a key test – NC gays try to put political albatross label behind them’. The Advocate. 3 April 1984.

15 Elizabeth Leland. ‘Helms attacks gays’ role in campaign’. Charlotte Observer. 23 Oct 1990.

16 Pam Spaulding. ‘Triumph in the Tar Heel State’. 17 Nov 2009.

17 ‘Death of a Political Hero – Joe Herzenberg (1941-2007)’. 31 Oct 2007. [accessed 27 March 2012]

18 ibid.

19 ibid.

20 ibid.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Giving His Voice: The Mayor of Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Chapel Hill / Orange County Visitors Bureau

CHAPEL HILL, N.C., (Jan. 30, 2012) -- Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt was recently interviewed by the Chapel Hill / Orange County Visitors Bureau. Kleinschmidt, an openly gay elected official, is committed to progressive ideals that are changing the face of this college town, including its tourism industry. And he wants the world to know about the city.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina is an amazing town. History books prove it. Winners live here; Nobel, James Beard, Pulitzer, Emmy and Academy Award recipients. It's the oldest public university town in the country, a musical Mecca, home to a legendary and winning basketball team – and now the 10th largest city in the world to have an openly gay mayor. In Chapel Hill, this isn't that big of a deal – the town also boasts the first African-American mayor elected since Reconstruction, back in 1969 – but in North Carolina, and throughout the south, it is a big deal. Mark Kleinschmidt, 41, who was elected as mayor in 2009, will tell you so.

Twenty-two years have passed since his mentor, Joe Herzenberg, was elected to the Chapel Hill Town Council. Growing up, Kleinschmidt watched Herzenberg on the news, "making headlines because he was openly gay, progressive and fought for things I had often thought of, but never articulated to myself, let alone in public." Herzenberg worked as a foil to other strong voices in North Carolina: those whose vitriol sustained North Carolina's past of homophobia way past its historical moment.

Herzenberg was reelected with overwhelming support in 1991, receiving an unprecedented vote total for a Chapel Hill town council race. He died at the age of 66 in 2007.

"Joe Herzenberg was one of many leaders who helped young North Carolinians like me understand that Chapel Hill is just left of the mainstream: the type of town where people don't have to chase the big American salary in order to earn respect; rather, it's the type of place where counting your pennies, living modestly and conserving resources in order to help your fellow man, and those in need of help, are qualities that are recognized as noble and worthy."

But still, it was the 90s, and even Chapel Hill had a long way to go.

"I think back as to how much has changed since I first came to school here as an undergraduate. I remember I wanted to be a teacher and I was very conflicted about being 'out of the closet' because the words teacher and gay did not go hand in hand. As a society we had not yet come to terms with gay men teaching our young children in schools."

Eventually Kleinschmidt did become a teacher, and took his first job in Charlotte, North Carolina's largest city. But working in a high poverty school and watching kids grow up with so many struggles (some of the kids he taught had kids of their own), convinced him that he had to find a bigger way to make a difference – a way to change the system, and not just the symptoms. For Kleinschmidt, that meant law.

This brought him back to Chapel Hill. It was his legal studies, coupled with his political advocacy on the UNC campus that would shape his life in public service.


In addition to local issues, he keeps a close eye on state issues impacting minorities and LGBT citizens. One of his biggest fears is a proposed amendment to the North Carolina Constitution which will appear on the May 8, 2012 ballot "to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State."

"Today's youth accept marriage equality, but by the time they're in a position to do something about it, this amendment will be locked in place for many years to come," Kleinschmidt says. "We must defeat it."

California recently passed legislation that allows education to adjust the curriculum to allow teaching of gay history. Kleinschmidt believes that forward thinking initiatives like this can only help everybody.

"When you teach history during times when LGBT people are changing things socially, or even on a larger scale, then children and young people should be told about the whole person. If not, you're really failing the purpose of education. I'm very supportive of curriculum that recognizes that gay and lesbians are in our world and they make important contributions."

Curriculums like this make the rest of the world more like Chapel Hill; until it is, though, he encourages everyone to come here for a visit.


Kleinschmidt is an impressive leader, teacher and beacon for change for North Carolina. With charm, good looks, intelligence and a modesty born of loving, working class parents who always have his back, Kleinschmidt radiates a happy confidence that makes you believe Chapel Hill can go wherever it wants to go.

Kleinschmidt has come a long way from his rural, NC middle school days, where he watched Joe Herzenberg on the television, wondering if he too would one day make a difference.

"I hope Joe is proud," Kleinschmidt says. "But I'm sure that if he were here he wouldn't spend any time telling me how proud he is of me. He would just be giving me another list of things to do."

Because there are always more things to do.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

RIP Alice the cat

Rest in Peace Alice the cat. :(

She had cancer. She was the sweetest. We are going to spread her ashes over Uncle Joe's grave in the spring. She was a great cat and will be missed.

- Sarah Herzenberg

Alice, Spring/Summer 2010

Alice was Joe's cat, who went to live with his family in New Jersey when Joe died. During his trip to Africa with Kathie Young in 2005, Joe had a memorable encounter with one of Alice's cousins.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Be proud

Indy Weekly, September 29, 2010

by D.L. Anderson

Last weekend, a wave of rainbow colors filled the streets around Duke's East Campus in celebration of N.C. PrideFest. About 2,000 people participated in the parade and nearly 10,000 watched it, according to John Short, executive director of the annual gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender festival, which celebrated its 26th year. "We're also seeing much greater participation from straight allies and the community," Short said.

Joe Herzenberg Memorial Arch at NC Pride 2010. Photo by Jake Geller-Goad.

Beyond the wild color, celebration and naughty humor, N.C. PrideFest is still rooted in the serious struggle for equality for the LGBT community. "It started with a murder, then a march and now a parade," added Short, referring to "Our Day Out," a 1981 march and protest in Durham against the beating and murder of a man assumed to be gay. Speaking at the first official gay pride march in 1986, Joe Herzenberg, who would soon become the South's first openly gay elected official as a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, said, "There is no way to get from here to there except by coming out, joining together and marching."

Joe at front of NC Pride 1991 march. Photo from Chapel Hill Herald, 4-25-93.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sean Rowe: New Times Writer/Author/Poet Is Dead

Miami New Times, August 30, 2010

By Chuck Strouse

Pretty much every word Sean Rowe ever spoke was poetry. Even after he was hit by a train and survived.

I don't say that as praise. I'm not fawning. He just had a way about him.

He arrived in Miami in 1989 to work at the Miami Herald, where I was also employed. Back then, we tooled around town while he talked in a North Carolina lilt about love, redemption in the woods, and dozens of things he had no clue about but loved to describe. I think we planned to cover an Orange Bowl parade but never really made it. I liked listening to the guy blather, so I just kept driving.

Sean, who died recently (nobody is really talking about details), left the Herald for New Times not long after that misadventure. He was a crazy man who provided much of the creativity that got this paper started in its early days. Everybody who was around here back then or knew Sean has a favorite story -- not only from the things he wrote, which were amazing, but also from the real-life adventures he led.

Sean, Joe, Kathie Young and friend, late 90s

The most famous one in New Times lore was Sean's departure from the Fort Lauderdale paper. At a party in the Himmarshee district, he was laying coins on a railroad track when a locomotive surprised him. He was thrown a long way and cracked a vertebra. He began assembling the plot to his novel on the way to the emergency room.

Fever is a novel you should buy. You won't regret it. Also, here are some links to Sean's stories in Miami and New Times Broward-Palm Beach.

The last story I remember was him telling me about reading the New York Times to a bunch of prisoners in a North Carolina jail -- after he mooned the judge. Of course, he also wrote a pretty wonderful novel, Fever, and charmed the globe.

Sometimes the wheels rolled off Sean's wagon. He'd mount 'em again and keep moving forward. This time, there's no putting 'em back on, but what the heck -- the prose ain't dead.


Sean was one of Joe's close friends and traveling companions. In 1987, while a Morehead scholar at UNC-CH, Sean covered Joe's victorious Town Council campaign for Lambda, the CGLA newsletter. He became an author and award-winning journalist in Miami before returning to North Carolina. Recordings of Sean telling two stories at The Monti storytelling event in Chapel Hill are posted online. Friends gathered at Margaret's Cantina on Labor Day (Sept. 6) for a potluck dinner to remember him.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Remembering King

Carrboro Citizen, January 14, 2010

If you’ve recently made your way across the square in front of Chapel Hill’s downtown post office, you may have noticed an inscription near the flagpole that says “Peace & Justice Plaza.”

Below those words are the names of eight individuals — men and women, black and white — who were at the forefront of this community’s civil rights efforts. Below that are the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “True peace is not merely the absence of negative forces, it is the presence of justice.”

You may or may not know the names Charlotte Adams, Henry Anderson, James Brittian, Joe Herzenberg, Mildred Ringwalt, Joe and Lucy Straley and Gloria Williams. They’re largely responsible for that little square in front of the post office being hallowed ground. It was the setting for countless rallies and protests during the civil rights era and each year on the third Monday in January it serves again as a gathering spot for those dedicated to keeping King’s dream alive.

There the NAACP’s annual rally in remembrance of King and the cause he fought and died for begins on Monday at 9 a.m. From there, the annual march down Franklin Street will start at 9:30 and proceed down to First Baptist Church on Roberson Street for a worship service. The service starts at 10:30 a.m. Tim Tyson, author of the book Blood Done Signed My Name and an extensive study of the 1898 Wilmington Riots, will be the keynote speaker.

The rally, march and worship service are among dozens of events throughout the community, including several for those who want to honor King with a day of service to their community.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mayor-Elect Mark Kleinschmidt Wins in Chapel Hill


Last night, two-term Chapel Hill Town Council member Mark Kleinschmidt was elected mayor of Chapel Hill in a hard-fought victory over fellow Town Council member Matt Czajkowski. One of Joe Herzenberg's political protégés, Kleinschmidt fulfilled part of Herzenberg's unfinished legacy by becoming the first openly gay (and at age 39, the youngest ever) mayor of Chapel Hill.

Kleinschmidt ran on an unabashedly progressive platform, supporting civil liberties, a responsible approach to development, and environmental protection.

And unlike his opponent, who vastly outspent him by at least a 4-1 margin, Kleinschmidt supported and participated in the town's pioneering campaign finance reform program, Voter-Owned Elections. Czajkowski vocally opposed the program, claiming, "there is no special interest influence in Chapel Hill."

Amazingly, Czajkowski was so ignorant of local politics and history that in the week before the election, he ran a full-page endorsement ad listing former segregationist mayor Sandy McClamroch at the very top of his list of supporters. In early 1964, McClamroch led a 4-2 majority of the then-Board of Aldermen in Chapel Hill in voting against a public accommodations law that would have integrated Chapel Hill. The town's refusal to integrate became a moot issue when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in July, 1964.

During the campaign, Kleinschimdt also had to contend with gay-baiting tactics used by another marginal mayoral candidate, Kevin Wolff. First, Wolff paid for a push poll that called himself the only "moral" candidate in the race. Then, he distributed flyers labeling Kleinschmidt a "gay-rights activist" who doesn't have children or own a home in Chapel Hill. In fact, Kleinschmidt owned a home in Chapel Hill from 2003-08 and is currently house-hunting for a new one, as fully detailed by the News & Observer once Wolff's scurrilous campaigning came to light.

Despite these obstacles, Kleinschmidt ran a professional yet grassroots campaign built on small donations, broad community support, and lots of volunteer effort. He focused relentlessly on the nuts and bolts of local issues, and his "reputation for getting things done" while standing up for progressive principles. It was the classic Herzenberg campaign model, and Joe would have been overjoyed to be there at the R&R Grill (formerly Papagayo's) last night watching Kleinschmidt declared the winner by the TV cameras while an overflow crowd of his supporters cheered.

Indy Weekly, 11-4-09 ("Relieved and jubilant, Kleinschmidt basks in win")

Supporters erupted. His mother burst into tears. His sister shouted. Mark Kleinschmidt just smiled contently, arms crossed but giving the kind of ear-to-ear grin you could feel across the room, satisfaction and disbelief merging together on his face. The campaign had just received word that rival Matt Czajkowski had made his concession speech at the Franklin Hotel...

N&O, 11-4-09 ("Kleinschmidt wins Chapel Hill mayoral race")

CHAPEL HILL -- The liberal establishment held off a band of businessmen trying to change the town's course. Two-term councilman Mark Kleinschmidt, a death-penalty defense lawyer and gay rights activist, narrowly defeated colleague Matt Czajkowski to take the reins as mayor. Kleinschmidt had just 48.6 percent of the vote in the four-person mayoral race...

Q-Notes, 11-4-09 ("Openly gay Kleinschmidt is next Chapel Hill mayor")

A member of the Chapel Hill Town Council since 2001, Kleinschmidt will become the third openly gay man to hold mayoral office in the state...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Worthy of the honor

Chapel Hill News, Editorial, September 23, 2009

Roses to Chapel Hill's ongoing efforts to commemorate those local activists who led the way on the momentous issues of civil rights and justice.

A historic marker was unveiled in the front of the Franklin Street post office Sunday. The event, sponsored by the town and the local chapter of the NAACP, honored nine remarkable local people: Charlotte Adams, Hank Anderson, James Brittain, Joe Herzenberg, Mildred Ringwalt, Hubert Robinson, Joe Straley, Lucy Straley and Gloria Williams.

The marker is at a spot that has been named Peace and Justice Plaza. Those nine are worthy of the honor, and we're confident that each of them would have agreed that there have been many more who played key roles in the struggle.

It's always worth remembering those who put themselves on the line to help society live up to its ideals.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dedication of Tribute Marker

(Click for larger image)

Town to unveil tribute marker today

Chapel Hill News, September 20, 2009

CHAPEL HILL - The historic unveiling of a tribute marker will take place from 3 to 4 p.m. today at Peace and Justice Plaza in front of the Post Office-Courthouse, 179 E. Franklin St.

The public event will be the second in a series sponsored by the town and Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP to honor nine local peace and justice leaders: Charlotte Adams, Hank Anderson, James Brittian, Joe Herzenberg, Mildred Ringwalt, Hubert Robinson, Joe Straley, Lucy Straley and Gloria Williams.

The quote on the marker comes from Martin Luther King, Jr.: "True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force, it is the presence of justice."

The town has recently increased efforts to commemorate its civil rights history.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Town, NAACP to remember historic march

Chapel Hill News, August 16, 2009

On Friday, Aug. 28, the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, the Town of Chapel Hill and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP will hold the first of two programs to honor nine local peace and justice leaders.

An outdoor rally will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Peace and Justice Plaza outside the Post Office/Courthouse at 179 E. Franklin St. The leaders being honored are Charlotte Adams, Hank Anderson, James Brittian, Joe Herzenberg, Mildred Ringwalt, Hubert Robinson, Joe Straley, Lucy Straley and Gloria Williams.

Three weeks later, the public unveiling of a tribute marker at Peace and Justice Plaza will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20. The Town Council has established a process to honor additional peace and justice leaders in the future.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Missing Joe

Carrboro Citizen, July 23, 2009

There are a lot of reasons people miss former Chapel Hill Town Council member and greenways champion Joe Herzenberg around election time.

For poll organizers and precinct captains, a big reason is that he could always be counted on to lend a hand. For journalists, he was a kind of institutional memory of local elections.

Joe could have quickly answered one of the big trivia questions floating around about the four-way race for Chapel Hill mayor. So we’ll put this one to our readers: When was the last time four people ran for mayor of Chapel Hill?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Inside the halls of power: Gays and lesbians have served the Carolinas well

Q-Notes, June 27, 2009


In the 1980s, the chances for any openly gay man or lesbian woman wining an election to public office were pretty much slim-to-none. That didn’t stop scores of gay and lesbian North Carolinians from throwing their hat into the ring and giving it a shot.


Bob and Lightning

On August 25, 1981, openly gay N.C. State University graduate student Bob Hoy filed to run for the Raleigh City Council where just a generation before, arch-conservative Jesse Helms held office. Hoy was ultimately unsuccessful. Even The Front Page, North Carolina’s most comprehensive gay and lesbian newspaper at the time, said Hoy wasn’t a “serious contender.”

The Front Page’s writers changed their tune when Lightning A. Brown came onto the scene, extolling his abilities and platform. Just weeks after Hoy filed to run in Raleigh, Brown filed to run for the Chapel Hill Town Council.

Come election day, neither Hoy nor Brown won. Hoy picked up only three percent of the vote in his primary. Brown picked up more than 1,400 votes in his primary, but ultimately failed to capture the 2,100 votes required to continue on to the general election.

Hoy’s and Brown’s candidacies are likely the first openly gay candidacies for public office in the Carolinas.

‘The Mayor of Franklin St.’

Brown’s partner, Joseph Herzenberg, would go down in history. At the same time Brown was fighting for his chance to become Chapel Hill’s first openly gay town councilman, Herzenberg — not yet out — lost his chance to continue serving on the council.

Herzenberg had run for the council before. In 1979, he was narrowly defeated. He was later appointed to the council when University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student Gerry Cohen resigned. Trying to keep that seat in 1981, Herzenberg barely missed the mark, losing his seat in the same primary election that saw his partner’s defeat.

That didn’t stop Joe. In 1987, he ran again and won, becoming the state’s first openly gay elected official. Serving until 1993, Herzenberg was instrumental in political organizing statewide and was a co-founder of the Equality North Carolina Political Action Committee.

He died of complications from diabetes at the age of 66 on Oct. 28, 2007.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Joe was always a true friend of the IFC

IFC News, Spring 2009

Thanks, Joe

Throughout his life, Joe Herzenberg enriched Chapel Hill. And so it's no surprise that even after his death in 2007, Joe continues to help the community, thanks to bequests he made in his will, including a $250,000 gift to IFC.

A historian and political activist, Joe became the first openly gay elected official in North Carolina with his 1987 election to the Chapel Hill Town Council. A fierce advocate for social, environmental and economic justice, Joe's generous bequest will help the disenfranchised served by IFC by supporting emergency shelter and long-term housing opportunities for men, women and children.

In addition, IFC purchased a truck, for its new FoodFirst program, which is used to transport food between all of IFC's facilities.

The FoodFirst truck used to transport food between IFC locations is just one of the legacies of a generous bequest by the late Joe Herzenberg.

"Joe was always a true friend of the IFC," says Chris Moran, IFC Executive Director. "He was a regular donor and advisor to IFC over the years. And he was someone who was extremely public in his views about supporting human services."

Community members are invited to support The Joe Herzenberg Fund; funds raised will support IFC's residential services operation.

For more information, contact IFC Development Director Kim Shaw at 919-929-6380 ext. 29 or

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bill of Rights reading honors 'mayor of Franklin Street'

Chapel Hill Herald, Dec. 16, 2008


CHAPEL HILL -- With the traffic and activity of downtown Chapel Hill buzzing around them, a group of elected officials and local residents paused Monday to reflect on freedom and a man who championed it as they gathered for an annual reading of the Bill of Rights.

This year's event at Peace and Justice Plaza in front of the old Franklin Street post office -- organized by the Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee -- also served as a tribute to the late Joe Herzenberg, a former Chapel Hill councilman and the so-called "mayor of Franklin Street."

Herzenberg, who died last fall at the age of 66, was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the South and is particularly remembered for his passion for civil rights.

"We're doing this in honor of Joe," said State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, who gave a few remarks before the reading. She then looked heavenward and added, "We know you're doing the right thing up there, too."

Bill of Rights Day 2008 marks the 217th anniversary of the day the necessary number of states ratified the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Kinnaird said the event has been held in downtown Chapel Hill for at least the last 20 years.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward, Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs and Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton each read a proclamation declaring Dec. 15 "Bill of Rights Day" in their respective jurisdictions. They noted that North Carolina withheld its ratification of the Constitution until a Bill of Rights could be added.

All three jurisdictions have passed resolutions reaffirming the human and civil rights of residents. Additionally, Jacobs and Chilton said, the county and the Town of Carrboro have established policies against the use of local law enforcement to enforce civil immigration law and policy.

Reading with gusto

Ten individuals then read, some with great gusto, the original 10 constitutional amendments.

Daniel Pollitt, a retired UNC law professor who has been attending the Bill of Rights reading for most of its history, said he recalls a time when some had to read more than one amendment because there weren't enough people. This year's crowd of 15-20 people was much bigger than in years past, he said.

"It's good to keep people reminded that we have a Bill of Rights and they ought to abide by it," Pollitt added.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bill of Rights Day 2008 press release

Orange Politics, Dec. 2, 2008

From Peggy Misch:


12 Noon, Monday, December 15, 2008

Bill of Rights Day

Peace and Justice Plaza, East Franklin and Henderson Streets, Chapel Hill

Proclamations read by two mayors and county commissioner; 10 amendments read by participants; words spoken by NC Senator Ellie Kinnaird remembering Joe Herzenberg for his dedication to civil rights

Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Information: 942-2535

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chapel Hill may name trail for Herzenberg

N&O, Orange Chat, Nov. 10, 2008


The Greenways Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously to jointly recommend at tonight's Town Council meeting that the town make the following naming and dedication change:

* Dedicate the future phase 3 section of the Bolin Creek Trail in honor of Joe Herzenberg. The commissions note Herzenberg was a strong proponent of open space and greenways and left at least $250,000 upon his death to be used for the Bolin Creek Trail. (The commissions also note that it would be easier to plan a memorial to Herzenberg if any such dedication were made prior to construction.)

Joe and Allan Gurganus at Joe's Stonewall party, 2004.