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.

Friday, January 26, 1996

Some want to remember shooting spree, others want to forget: Chapel Hill marks grim anniversary

The News & Observer, Jan. 26, 1996

CHAPEL HILL - There were no flowers or wreaths Thursday. A bullet hole in a wall of Orrin Robbins' law office was one of the few visible reminders of the tragedy that rocked this college town a year ago today.

For many it is still surreal. Armed with a World War II rifle, a psychotic University of North Carolina law student shot and killed two men, then injured a police officer as he marched up Henderson Street toward the campus. Wendell Williamson's shooting rampage put to rest any remaining illusions that Chapel Hill was immune to random urban violence.

Perceptions differ a year later. Some residents say it's important to remember the traumatic parts of life as well as those that enrich. Others simply want to forget.


Joe Herzenberg, a former Chapel Hill Town Council member, saw Williamson walk up Cobb Terrace and was the first person to call 911.

"It was a very odd experience," Herzenberg said. "It was like having a movie screen descend in your neighborhood. It didn't seem very real."

To Herzenberg, the shootings sometimes feel as though they took place yesterday. Other times, it seems like it was 10 years ago.

Although Herzenberg said he thinks of the incident as a sad milestone in the town's history, he stressed that violent crime in Chapel Hill predates Williamson. Herzenberg cited the shooting of Kristin Lodge-Miller, the jogger murdered on Estes Drive in 1993.

"I don't think {the Williamson shootings} really changed my perception of the town very dramatically," Herzenberg said. "They did hit close to home, though."

Tuesday, January 23, 1996