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.

Monday, May 29, 1995

Detailed plan for Chapel Hill museum ready

The News & Observer, May 29, 1995


CHAPEL HILL -- A plan for the town's first permanent history museum is taking shape.

After months of research, a museum study committee appointed by the Town Council last year has come up with a detailed proposal for a Chapel Hill museum.

The group's report says a museum could be up and running in two years if the town donates the former library on Franklin Street for its use. Support would come through grants from business and government, and private donations.


The idea first gained popularity last year during the town's bicentennial celebration. Museum backers asked for space in the town's old library, and before long, yard signs popped up all over town supporting the notion of a museum. About $30,000 in pledges also poured in.

A 12-member study committee spent the past year researching museum funding possibilities and visiting other museums across North Carolina. Members spent more than 1,000 hours on the task.

They were encouraged by what they found. They looked at eight museums in North Carolina, with annual budgets ranging from $120,000 to $5.3 million. A few were in small towns.

"There are towns with far less in financial resources than we have that have made quite a go of their museums," said committee member Joe Herzenberg.

Some are run by local governments; others are owned and operated by non-profit corporations.

Herzenberg and other members think the non-profit organization may be the better way to go.

"I'm not the first one to say this is not the best time for local governments to be thinking about taking on new departments," Herzenberg said.

The key, committee members say, will be the use of the old library. Having a place to begin part-time museum operations is the only way to get major support through grants and corporate donations.

During the two-year beginning phase, the museum would probably require about $44,000 in operating money each year, the committee estimated.


Herzenberg said the success of the bicentennial demonstrated the town's interest in history.

"We've only begun to tap the barrel of volunteers in this town," he said. "The main questions are time and money. But I think there are a lot of interested and clever people who want to make this happen."