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.

Wednesday, November 8, 1995

Verdict offers little solace to town still scarred by shootings

The News & Observer, Nov. 8, 1995

By Jane Stancill, Staff Writer

Chapel Hill - In a stone wall on peaceful Cobb Terrace, soon there will be a simple black and silver plaque.

"Two young men lost their lives near this spot on Jan. 26, 1995, in a shooting tragedy that wounded the whole community," it reads, along with the names of the victims - Kevin Eric Reichardt and Ralph Woodrow Walker.

The deadly outburst of Wendell Williamson left a bruise on Chapel Hill's soul, a mark unsoothed by an Orange County jury's verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

For many in the college town, the terror of that sunny January day remains fresh. They remember the image of a young man wearing army fatigues and a blank stare, marching matter-of-factly up Henderson Street with a high-powered rifle. Then the shots.


Joe Herzenberg, former Town Council member and resident of Cobb Terrace...was one of the first people to dial 911 when the shooting began. Herzenberg plans to install the memorial plaque in his stone wall.

"The unofficial slogan of the town is 'the Southern Part of Heaven,' " he said. "Memorials to the dead help bring us back to Earth where we really are."

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