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.

Thursday, July 27, 1995

Oral History Interview with Joe Herzenberg, conducted by Joseph Mosnier

Oral History Interview with Joe Herzenberg, conducted by Joseph Mosnier, July 27, 1995.

Interview Number: A-0381. Archived for listening as part of the Southern Oral History Program at the Southern Historical Collection Manuscripts Department in Wilson Libary, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Nearly four hours in length, this was Joe's most in-depth, wide ranging recorded conversation about his life and times. Having conducted several oral history interviews himself with figures like Anne Queen and the Rev. Charles M. Jones for the Southern Oral History Program during the 1970's, Joe was aware this interview was an opportunity to record what he had witnessed during three decades of immersion in the North Carolina political scene, as seen from his perspective as a historian, activist, and political strategist.

As described by his interviewer, Joseph Mosnier, Joe "seemed genuinely pleased to have the chance to set down his recollections of gay politics for archival purposes."

No transcript of this interview is currently available, but the interviewer's field notes, handwritten life history drawn up by Joe, and a tape log that summarizes the topics covered are all reproduced below.

Tuesday, July 25, 1995

Note from Joe - Saw the preview of Kids

Note from Joe, 1995.

A lot of the notes I got from Joe were on leftover pieces of campaign literature from past elections. Even more so than when he backed Jim Hunt against Jesse Helms in 1984, Joe put his heart and soul into supporting Harvey Gantt's two campaigns against Helms for US Senate.