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.

Sunday, February 18, 2001

Award honors 4 for human relations work

Chapel Hill Herald, Feb. 18, 2001

HILLSBOROUGH - The Orange County Human Relations Commission has named three residents and a local business as winners of this year's Pauli Murray Human Relations awards.

For the first time, the individual Murray Human Relations Award went to two people - Bonnie Davis of Hillsborough and Joe Herzenberg of Chapel Hill.


The overall aim of the Murray awards is to honor those with a "significant history of promoting and fostering better human relations among the diverse residents of Orange County."

The award program gets its name from the Rev. Pauli Murray, who focused on human relations in many roles, including her work as the first black woman in the country ordained in the Episcopal Church, in 1977.


The individual Murray award goes to residents who have worked to foster conciliation, human rights, diversity and/or equality in Orange County.


Joe Herzenberg moved to Chapel Hill in 1969 to study American history as a graduate student. His first history professor told Herzenberg about Pauli Murray, and he was so intrigued, he tracked down a copy of her book, "Proud Shoes."

"She's just a great role model for anybody," Herzenberg said about Murray. "She viewed herself as an American, of both African and European descent. She never saw anything narrowly. She saw the civil rights movement as a way to liberate not just black people, but white people as well. She was pretty much interested in everything."

Herzenberg, 59, is a native of Franklin, N.J., and he had been teaching at a black college in Mississippi before he came to Chapel Hill. He has been active in local politics and issues for many years, serving on a number of advisory boards and committees.

He is chairman of Chapel Hill's Greenways Commission and the Merritt Pasture Access Committee. He served eight years on the Chapel Hill Town Council before resigning in 1993, in the midst of controversy over his pleading guilty to a tax evasion charge.

Herzenberg laughed Friday in recalling the recent phone call in which he learned about the award. He said he initially joked with the caller that he didn't want the award, because he felt such awards were supposed to go to older residents.

"I'm actually quite happy," he said. "This award is one that I'm especially honored to get."

Herzenberg said his focus in the past three decades primarily has been on civil rights for black residents and on gay and lesbian rights.

No comments: