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.

Tuesday, January 29, 1991

Chapel Hill rejects war sanctuary plan

The News & Observer, Jan. 29, 1991


CHAPEL HILL -- Facing a deeply divided, standing-room-only crowd that mirrored the nation's anguish over the Persian Gulf war, the Chapel Hill Town Council on Monday rejected a move to declare the town a haven for military deserters and conscientious objectors.

The council voted down the sanctuary proposal, 6-2, with most members saying it was too radical. But the issues weren't simple and the debate was heated in a university town that became famous for its Vietnam War protests in the 1960s and 1970s. "This asks us to endorse particular behavior that is certainly illegal, is something we could not carry out, and is not supported by a majority of our citizens," said council member Arthur S. Werner, who voted against the plan.

At issue was a petition presented by the Orange County Greens, the local chapter of a worldwide, liberal political action group.

Under the plan, the town would have welcomed military deserters, conscientious objectors, war protesters and people who withheld part of their taxes to protest the war.

The proposal also would have allowed town employees -- including police officers -- to refuse to prosecute or arrest protesters or deserters. But the petition would not have been legally enforceable.

Council members Joyce Brown and Joseph A. Herzenberg voted for the sanctuary petition. But the majority of the council agreed with opponents and took the unusual step of refusing to accept a citizens' petition.

"I don't think {the sanctuary petition} deserves to see the light of day," said council member Alan E. Rimer. "I don't want us to do anything with it."

The split vote was indicative of the divisiveness that has racked the town since the sanctuary plan was proposed last week.

Council members said they had received numerous phone calls about the "safe haven" proposal. Town hall had received more than 50 calls in the previous three days. And security was tight at Monday's meeting, with Police Chief Arnold Gold and at least two undercover officers present.

The crowd was fraught with emotion. Supporters urged the council to meet Chapel Hill's image as a courageously liberal college community.

Many people at the meeting carried signs that typified the intellectual, rebellious streak the town has become famous for. Among them: "Individuals Should Not Abrogate Their Thinking and Moral Judgment to the President," and "Follow Martin Luther King's Dream, Not George Bush's Nightmare."

The Rev. W.W. Olney, who last week declared his church a sanctuary for war resisters, made an impassioned plea.

"Every day I get calls from across the state and out of state from young men and women saying, 'I do not want to kill and I do not want to be killed,'" said Mr. Olney, pastor of the Community Church. "How can we turn our backs on our children who can not bring themselves to kill?"

But others urged the council to reject the proposal, calling it unconstitutional, unenforceable and damaging to the town's reputation. Some waved flags while the council debated the petition.

"Chapel Hill would become the object of maximum derision and vilification in North Carolina and the country, and rightfully so, if this is passed," said Phillip J. Sullivan, a retired businessman and former Navy officer.

"Enticing members of the U.S. Armed Services to go AWOL is illegal, big-time. Most of us in Chapel Hill would consider that an act of treason."

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