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

About Joe

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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.

Saturday, April 28, 1973

Voter registration card from Joe’s first Chapel Hill address, 1973

Joe served as precinct chair of East Franklin for 35 years, from 1972 until his death. When Joe went to the Orange County Board of Elections in Hillsborough in April, 1973 to pick up a computerized voter registration print-out of all the voters in his precinct, they gave him this copy of his own voter registration punchcard.

Over the years, he consistently organized a phenomenal Democratic turnout in East Franklin, as recounted in this story by Gerry Cohen, whose victorious Chapel Hill Town Council campaign Joe managed in the fall of 1973.

When Joe first came to Chapel Hill in 1969 as a history graduate student, working towards his PhD and researching the life of Frank Porter Graham, he lived off Airport Road in Northampton Terrace Apartments. A small path leads from the back of these apartments, winds up through the woods, and comes out on Cobb Terrace.

Interviewed by Chris McGinnis in 2000, Joe explained how during those initial few years, he was focused on his research and not paying attention to much else. "I walked from my apartment to Wilson Library and back home," said Joe. Every day, on his way to campus he would have gone up Cobb Terrace, a cool little street just a stone's throw away from downtown but set back from the world in a hidden corner. And passed right by the house at 6 Cobb Terrace, where Joe would end up living most of the rest of his life in Chapel Hill.

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