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.

Monday, December 30, 1996

Peek at town's new year promises

Chapel Hill Herald, Dec. 30, 1996


CHAPEL HILL -- The new year is just around the corner, and if you haven't made a new year's resolution, now is the time to start thinking about them. Here's a sampling of resolutions from Orange County residents.


Newly elected state Sen. Eleanor Kinnaird doesn't make resolutions. "I don't believe in New Year's resolutions," she said. "If you can't do it the rest of the year, what makes you think you can do it now?"


Manju Rajendran, a 16-year-old activist, has a simple resolution. "I'm going to save the world," she said. "I've been trying for a long time, but it isn't happening."


Chapel Hill citizen Joe Herzenberg, who can be seen regularly walking in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, has three resolutions. "Walk more. Two is write more, and three is improve my Hebrew," he said.

Herzenberg already has started on the Hebrew resolution. "Well, I went to the library today, and I got some books," he said.

And he vows to write more than just a few notes and cards next year. "It's incredible how little I write," he said. "There's a couple of books I've started and not finished. I could go on and on."

Friday, November 8, 1996

Comebacks by Lee, Price hearten towns, UNC-CH

The News & Observer, Raleigh, Nov. 8, 1996

Tuesday's election wasn't just a comeback for veteran Democrats David Price and Howard Lee: It was also a big day for Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Price reclaimed his congressional seat from Raleigh Republican Fred Heineman, while Lee will again represent state Senate District 16, along with former Carrboro Mayor Eleanor Kinnaird. They will replace Moore County residents Teena Little and Fred Hobbs.

Price and Lee were among the town's most popular and influential politicians when they were chopped down in the 1994 Republican sweep.

Their loss left many here feeling as if they had a case of political
laryngitis, what with Little, Hobbs and Heineman all hailing from elsewhere.

And that "R" word beside Little's and Heineman's names didn't play well in an enclave that's generally considered the state's most liberal. Now, residents of the two towns and members of the university community feel like they've regained
their elected voices.


Former Chapel Hill Town Council member Joe Herzenberg said it can't hurt to have former Chapel Hill and Carrboro mayors in the state Senate, and a Chapel Hill-based professor in Congress.

Still, the liberal activist wasn't ready to declare total victory. "To the extent that one or a small number of officials can make a difference, then the new team would seem to be better for the two towns and the university," he said.

"I think we're somewhat better off, but I'd be hesitant to say there's been a major revolution and suddenly we're much, much better off. There is a bigger picture, which is that both the legislature and Congress are still controlled by Republicans and moderate Democrats."

Friday, October 18, 1996

Gay issue emerges

The News & Observer, Oct. 18, 1996


CHAPEL HILL - When it comes to equal rights for gays and lesbians, about the only thing the candidates running in the 16th Senate District agree about is that it's not an important issue in the campaign

Of course, that hasn't stopped the issue of same-sex marriages and support for gays and lesbians from becoming the hottest topic in the campaign.

Sen. Teena Little of Southern Pines and challenger P.H. Craig of Chapel Hill, both Republicans, have highlighted their opponents' support for gay rights in radio ads and newspaper columns. Democratic challengers Eleanor Kinnaird, a former Carrboro mayor, and Howard Lee, a former state senator from Chapel Hill, counter that their opponents are using the topic to split voters and turn their attention away from more pressing issues.

Things are getting so heated that Kinnaird called a news conference Thursday to announce that she had signed a pledge to keep the campaign civil and not appeal to discrimination or prejudice.

"I challenge each of the candidates to do the same," Kinnaird said. "Teena is obscuring the issues of education, environment and campaign finance."

The latest flap surrounds a radio ad that Little has been running in all parts of the district, which is made up of Orange, Chatham and Moore counties and parts of Lee and Randolph counties.

The one-minute ad begins: "Ellie Kinnaird, candidate for state Senate, voted to recognize same-sex marriages in Carrboro. Now, in a nonpartisan survey, she openly supports legalizing same-sex marriages as well as forcing employers to give hiring preferences to homosexuals."

The ad goes on to say that Kinnaird supports higher taxes and bigger government while Little cut taxes during her first term.

Kinnaird's supporters say the ad is a lie. As mayor of Carrboro, Kinnaird voted in 1994 to allow unmarried domestic partners to register with the town for insurance purposes and not to approve same-sex marriages as the ad states.

"She's gay-bashing in the hopes that it will get her elected back to the state Senate," said Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson, the state's first openly gay mayor. "It's about as close to a lie as you can get."

In addition, the advertisement refers listeners to a World Wide Web page attacking Kinnaird. ( The web page highlights Kinnaird's positions on several issues and has an image of a traffic sign that reads: "Stop Ellie."campaign.have become an issue."

Craig has also made gays and lesbians a part of his campaign, though he attacks both Kinnaird and Lee. At candidate forums and during stump speeches, Craig tells the audience that he does not take money from gay-related PACs and says his opponents do. In July, he wrote a lengthy column for the News of Orange in Hillsborough that focused on Kinnaird's and Lee's support for gay rights.

"Both Howard Lee and Ellie Kinnaird talked an awful lot about that issue in the primary to get elected," Craig said Thursday. "Now they realize that issue won't help them in the general election."

Lee said he had not personally heard the attacks. He said would concentrate on his campaign and not respond.

"I'm disappointed that it's being done," Lee said. "I've certainly taken the position that everybody should be free from discrimination. I've not taken a position on same- sex marriages or domestic partners. But I think it would be wrong for us not to fight against discrimination."

On Thursday at her news conference, Kinnaird announced that she had signed a civility pledge that the N.C. Interfaith Alliance - a group of religious voters that tries to counter the Christian Coalition - has asked candidates to sign.

When asked about her feelings about same-sex marriages, Kinnaird said it was not one of the issues she was focusing on.

"I want to talk about my agenda," she said. "Teena can talk about her agenda."

The fact that the Republicans are turning to the gay issue says a lot about the people who live in the 16th Senate District.

It's one of the largest geographic districts in the state and elects two state senators. It includes a concentration of progressives in places like Chapel Hill but also has staunchly conservative areas in Randolph and Moore counties.

That leaves some Kinnaird and Lee supporters unclear about whether the attacks will win or lose votes for the Republican candidates.

"I think Teena's doing it because she thinks it will get her votes in some parts of the district," said Joe Herzenberg, a former Chapel Hill Town Council member who is gay. "But it also may hurt her because it may make some Democrats mad. Hopefully, it will galvanize Ellie's support and make them get out and vote."

Friday, August 2, 1996

Carrboro may free speech at market

Chapel Hill Herald, Aug. 2, 1996


CARRBORO -- After facing a charge of violating free speech, town officials appear ready to do an about-face.

In a May 30 letter to the town, Joe Herzenberg of the local American Civil Liberties Union protested prohibitions on political activity at Carrboro Day in May and at a recent Farmers' Market.

Alderman Jacqueline Gist said Thursday that she planned to redress the wrong at the aldermen's Aug. 13 meeting, their first after a six-week summer recess.

"I think we made a mistake [at Carrboro Day], and we'll fix it. I don't believe in restricting people's rights of free speech. It looks like we did that and we won't do it again," Gist said.

Gist said she found it curious that Carrboro, known for liberal leanings, finds itself in this position.

"We defend the right of people to panhandle," Gist said.

Herzenberg , an ACLU board member and former Chapel Hill Town Council member, said he got calls from three people who said they were told by town officials to stop distributing campaign literature at Carrboro Day.

One of the two people handing out literature for county commissioner candidate Margaret Brown was Brown's husband, Robert.

Another person was distributing literature for former Carrboro Mayor Ellie Kinnaird, a candidate for state Senate District 16, Herzenberg said.

"Prohibition of political speech is a clear violation of the First Amendment. Political speech enjoys the highest level of protection," Herzenberg said Thursday.

In addition, someone told Herzenberg another person was "basically chased away from the Farmers' Market" after collecting signatures on a petition backing Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, Herzenberg said.

Town Manager Robert Morgan said that political activity was against the rules of the Farmers' Market and had been so for about 12 years.

The market is intended to be a marketplace of produce and crafts only, Morgan said.

"The Farmers' Market has a regulation in which they don't allow outside groups to hand out literature. They've just excluded all outside groups not associated with the market, which would include political activity," Morgan said.

Town attorney Mike Brough is looking into the matter to see if the town is in violation of the First Amendment, Morgan added.

Brough could not be reached for comment Thursday.

As for Carrboro Day, Morgan said, "It was the desire of the Carrboro Day committee that people not politick at that event. Some people feel harassed by that kind of stuff."

Initially, Carrboro Day was supposed to be held in September before the November elections, and planners feared that people attending the event would be overrun by people campaigning -- "like shooting fish in a barrel" Gist said.

"We asked people not to do that," Gist said. "We shouldn't have. We could have just asked people not to be overzealous."

Herzenberg said that after he received the complaints he was dismayed to the point of depression about what he saw as a violation of First Amendment rights by people he thought would not do that.

"The people on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen are pretty progressive," Herzenberg said.

Thursday, August 1, 1996

Activists say town squelched free speech at festival, market

The News & Observer, Aug. 1, 1996


CARRBORO - The town that many view as a bastion of liberal activism stands accused of barring free speech.

Joe Herzenberg, a board member of the local American Civil Liberties Union chapter, said he fielded calls from three people who were told - in at least one case by a town alderman - to stop distributing campaign literature during Carrboro Day, a town-sponsored event held on town property in May. Herzenberg said he had also been told another man was asked to leave the Carrboro Farmers Market, also held on town property, after soliciting signatures for a political petition.

In late May, Herzenberg sent the Board of Aldermen a letter protesting the Carrboro Day incidents. The board briefly discussed the letter June 25, but didn't act.

So far the ruckus has been low-key, but it may be about to expand. Herzenberg plans to raise the issue at an ACLU board meeting Tuesday night.

Two of the campaign workers at Carrboro Day were distributing palm cards for Orange County commissioner candidate Margaret Brown. She said the volunteers, one of whom was her husband, Robert, were told to stop, not simply asked.

"It wasn't a choice," she said. "Robert asked if it was."

Senate District 16 candidate Eleanor Kinnaird, a former Carrboro mayor, said she had planned to hand out literature, too. But when she arrived, she heard Robert Brown complaining about what had happened and decided not to try.

Kinnaird finds it ironic that something like this would happen in Carrboro.

"I would say one of the most special qualities about the town is political speech - vigorous political speech - and strongly coming to the government and trying to get things done."

Green Party volunteer Mark Marcoplos says the problems with speech restrictions include the weekly Carrboro Farmers Market. Marcoplos said that on July 20 he was collecting signatures on a petition backing Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, when the on-site manager of the market told him political activity was against the rules and asked him to leave.

Herzenberg said the issue of whether electioneering should be allowed at the market is murkier, because the town's agreement with the market may allow the vendors to enforce such rules.

Town Manager Robert Morgan, who oversees the town's relationship with the market group, said the rule against political activity has been in place for years, since before the market moved onto town property.

"Those are the rules and regulations of the market," he said. "It's not an issue we've looked at in several years, and it might be something I need to raise with the town attorney."

Town Attorney Mike Brough couldn't be reached Wednesday.

Carrboro Day was envisioned as an eclectic arts and crafts celebration with an emphasis on town history. This year's was the first, but the event was supposed to have made its debut in 1995, just before a round of hotly contested town elections. Fearing it would be dominated by politicking, the town-appointed Carrboro Day Committee sent a letter to local pols, asking they they not campaign there.

Alderman Jacqueline Gist, one of her board's liaisons to the committee, said Herzenberg's letter may have exaggerated a little. She doesn't think anyone was thrown out of Carrboro Day. But she agrees that politicking should be allowed.

"I got Joe's letter and said, 'Damn, he's right. We can't tell people what not to tell other people. That's not what Carrboro's about.' "

She says the board may try to change the policies at both Carrboro Day and the Farmers Market.

"I think both things are kind of unforeseen consequences of what were probably well-intentioned rules," she said. "Knowing my board, this will come up at the next meeting and we'll fix it, simple as that."

Mayor Mike Nelson was the only board member to back Herzenberg at the June 25 meeting. He also says politicking should be allowed at Carrboro Day, though he understands the committee's sentiment.

"Everybody makes mistakes, and I think this was a mistake, and that it won't happen again," he said.

Tuesday, July 2, 1996

Fireworks on hiatus this year

The News & Observer, July 2, 1996


Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents hoping to catch a fireworks show this Fourth of July will be out of luck unless they roam to Durham, Raleigh or Cary.

For the first time this decade, the town's annual fireworks display at Kenan Stadium will be on hiatus while renovations are made to the football stadium.

The festivities will move to Chapel Hill as residents converge on McCorkle Place at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for picnicking, music and a synchronized laser light show.


Joe Herzenberg, a longtime resident and former Town Council member who usually spends the Fourth of July at the Kenan Stadium celebration, said he plans to spend the afternoon picnicking at the Horace Williams House before heading over to McCorkle Place.

"I love fireworks," he said. "But I really don't like the idea of going to Durham, so I'm curious about what these laser lights are like. I'm loyal to my town."

Gays facing a changed atmosphere

The News & Observer, page A1, July 2, 1996


It's been a tough spring for the gay community.

With national polls showing voters strongly opposing gay marriage, the General Assembly has banned same-sex unions. Congress is revving up its Defense of Marriage Act, and President Clinton has promised to sign it. Baptists are boycotting Disney for providing benefits to "domestic partners." And the N.C. Board of Education wants to instruct students that homosexuality is illegal and immoral.


The same-sex marriage legislation notwithstanding, gays and lesbians acknowledge that they have also seen many advances over the past four years.


To date, nine states have passed legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro offer benefits to domestic partners of their employees.

N.C. Pride PAC, which gives money to candidates who are sympathetic to gay issues, is among the top 20 political action committees in dollars raised. And the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund reports that of 511,000 elected officials, 105, including Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson, are openly gay. That's the highest number ever, up from 75 in 1992, when the officials' national convention was in Chapel Hill.

Joe Herzenberg, a former Chapel Hill City Council member who was the first openly gay elected official in the state, said he and others at the convention overestimated the impact of Clinton's election.

"I thought this was a giant step forward," he said. Now, he said, he realizes that changes in society's attitudes toward homosexuality come in small steps - steps that have continued amid the backlash of the past few years. He said debate on these types of issues - positive or negative - is a step forward.

"In my life," said Herzenberg, 54, "I never would have expected to see a gay issue debated on the floor of the General Assembly."

Wednesday, May 8, 1996

Ex-council member who resigned under a cloud up for town board

Chapel Hill Herald, May 8, 1996


CHAPEL HILL -- Former Town Council Member Joe Herzenberg, who resigned in 1993 after pleading guilty to tax evasion, is vying for a seat on Chapel Hill's Greenways Commission.

Late last month Herzenberg won a unanimous endorsement from Greenways Commission members who reviewed applicants for two upcoming vacancies.

His nomination will go to the Town Council later this spring, but it's already produced a bit of tongue-wagging among the elected officials who will have to approve it.

Council Member Joe Capowski said Herzenberg's history raises doubts in his mind about the nomination.

"We need responsible recommendations from those boards and people on them who recognize the value of taxpayers' money, especially in light of the fact we're about to start talking about a million-dollar bond for parks and recreation and greenways," Capowski said.

Other council members, however, said they know of no reason to deny Herzenberg a seat.

"I don't see why [people] would be concerned with an advisory group," said Council Member Lee Pavao. "They can recommend funds to be allocated, but they themselves don't handle funds. It's the council that makes those decisions."

"Joe's difficulty with not paying taxes did raise doubts about the appropriateness of his retaining elected office, but I do not see a problem with him serving the community in an advisory capacity on something he cares deeply about," added Council Member Julie Andresen. "I think we ought to take advantage of it."

Herzenberg triggered a furor in August 1992 when he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of failing to file his 1989 N.C. income tax return and 1990 state intangibles tax return.

The admission, the result of a negotiated plea with the attorney general's office, was accompanied by revelations that he had not filed state tax returns from 1978 to 1992 or intangibles returns from 1986 to 1992.

Officials who had seen Herzenberg, a fixture on the local political scene, lead the ticket in the 1991 council election soon called on him to resign.

When he didn't, they asked the N.C. General Assembly to give local voters permission to stage recall elections. Legislators agreed in 1993, and residents shortly afterward organized the county's first recall petition.

Organizers of that drive said then that they objected to the town's having a convicted tax evader in a position to rule on the use of taxpayer dollars.

Herzenberg resigned his seat on Sept. 23, 1993, as elections workers were close to validating the recall petition.

The former council member has remained active in local affairs since leaving office. Questions about the Greenways Commission post seemed to catch him by surprise Monday.

Herzenberg noted that his former colleagues appointed him to serve on another advisory group, the museum study committee, that went about its business for a year without fuss.

That appointment came in June 1994. Herzenberg was one of 12 people named to the panel by acclamation, according to council minutes.

The panel planned a municipal museum in the old Chapel Hill Library building on East Franklin Street. As part of that study it outlined the capital and operating budgets organizers will need to get the museum off the ground.

The museum committee wrapped up its work in May 1995. Herzenberg said he applied for the greenways post because "it just happened for the first time in like 20 years" he's not now on one of Chapel Hill's advisory boards.

Herzenberg added that he's looking forward to serving on a board that has been "sort of a stepchild" in town politics.

At one time the council considered merging the Greenways Commission with the town's Parks and Recreation Commission.

"Greenways needs a little boost in its efforts," Herzenberg said. "I don't want to critical, but I think it needs a little more focus, leadership, something or another."

He added that he doesn't think the events of 1992 and 1993 will prove a stumbling block to an appointment.

Capowski, however, said he wants to talk to his former colleague before making a decision.

"I'm concerned about his being part of the decision-making process about the spending of taxpayers' money unless he can assure us he has paid every bit of his back taxes" for the 14 years the attorney general's office said he hadn't filed, Capowski said.

As part of the plea, Herzenberg was required to pay $800 in back taxes for 1989 and $600 for 1990. He said Monday that, "to the best of my knowledge," he complied with that ruling.

But whether he has since paid for other years when he didn't file is a different issue -- one even Herzenberg says he can't answer.

"You're asking me questions I've not thought about for so long," Herzenberg said. "I think it's paid off, I'm not sure. I think we gave them some money, and they did not ask for more."

N.C. Department of Revenue officials declined Monday to comment on Herzenberg's case.

Sunday, April 14, 1996

Pep rally attracts county Democrats

Chapel Hill Herald, April 14, 1996


HILLSBOROUGH -- All the county's "movers and shakers" were present as Orange County's Democrats gathered Saturday for a pep rally in the Margaret Lane Court House.

The annual Orange County Democratic Convention included everything from greetings from the Democratic president to barbecue cooked by the local Democratic sheriff.


Delegates sought support for ... Jim Hunt, for governor; and Harvey Gantt, to replace Sen. Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.

In supporting Gantt, former Chapel Hill Councilman Joe Herzenberg said Democrats would do the state and the country a great honor by voting Gantt into office.

"I think this time we can make it," Herzenberg said.

"We can finally bring our senior senator home where he can spend more time with his grandchildren, who I'm sure miss him," he added, to the delight of the audience.

Sunday, March 10, 1996

No evidence Helms ever made zoo remark

Chapel Hill Herald, March 10, 1996

I am writing in the defense of Jesse Helms.

There is supposed to be this "zoo" remark of his: Just put a fence around Chapel Hill, he allegedly said.

It is a great and appropriate quotation coming from our distinguished U.S. senator, and who, friend or foe, would deny the sentiment to him? But, extensive research some years ago found no evidence that he indeed had ever made this memorable statement. Instead credit can readily be given to one Chubb Seawell, today not a well-remembered soul, but 30 years ago a famous wit and occasional substitute for Helms' conservative broadcast editorials.

Jesse Helms has enough truly awful attributes. Why burden him with something he never actually said?

Joe Herzenberg
Chapel Hill

Tuesday, February 13, 1996

Brown community activist until death came Monday

Chapel Hill Herald, Feb. 13, 1996


CARRBORO -- Lightning Brown always liked to have the last word.

On Monday, just hours after he died, the AIDS Service Agency of Orange County released his obituary.

He had written it himself.

Born Allan Brown, the 48-year-old lawyer and community activist picked the name Lightning in a bolt of independence after he told his parents he was gay and they temporarily disowned him.

"It's just my favorite thing," Brown explained of his chosen name last year. "It's so exciting. I used to take people out in rainstorms just so we could see it."

Best known locally for his tireless advocacy on behalf of Bolin Creek, a frail Brown visited Chapel Hill Town Hall last year to ask Town Council members to name a portion of the Bolin Creek Greenway after him.

The Greenways Commission is scheduled to discuss the request on Wednesday, chairwoman Andrea Rohrbacher said.

"I am strongly in favor of it," she said Monday afternoon. Commission members will discuss several options, including naming the entire greenways or just a portion. The existing portion, from Airport Road to Elizabeth Street, is already named for early preservationist Alice Welch, though the sign with her name has not yet been installed.

The Greenways Commission was supposed to have taken up Brown's request last month, but because of bad weather postponed the meeting, Rohrbacher said.

"I still feel badly, though I'm not sure it would have gone all the way [through the approval process] by now," she said.

The commission will make a recommendation to the town's naming committee, which will make a recommendation to the Town Council.

Brown died about 12:50 p.m. with family and friends at his bedside in the residence for people with AIDS on North Greensboro Street and Robert Hunt Drive in Carrboro.

His brother, Andy Brown, said he hopes people will remember Brown for his honesty, integrity and commitment. "I'm 16 years his junior," said Andy Brown, a law student. "Much of the character that drove him to do those political things I found admirable and hope to emulate."

A leader in both the Democratic Party and local gay and lesbian politics since 1976, Brown served on the Chapel Hill Planning Board, Greenways Task Force, the county's Low/Moderate Income Housing Task Force and the Chapel Hill Stormwater Management Task Force.

Friend Joe Herzenberg wasn't surprised Brown had written his own obituary, or that he chose to live his final months in the public spotlight.

"It fits into the context of his life very well," Herzenberg , a former Town Council member, said. "Because he was a public person. ... He was always open and out about everything."

Brown graduated from law school in 1991. That same year he brought a 10-minute video to the Town Council showing sewage debris and cracked manholes along the Bolin Creek sewer line down the hill from his Clark Road home.

The line had been overflowing after heavy storms for 15 years, Brown said. His persistence -- he threatened the Orange Water and Sewer Authority with the state's Clean Water Act -- pressured OWASA to finally make repairs.

Ironically, Brown was appointed to the OWASA board of directors last year, but could serve only a few months.

Brown had been frank about having AIDS, which he got from unprotected sex, saying he wanted to tell people so that they could protect themselves. He suffered from renal failure, lymphoma and a yeast infection that affected his entire body.

"His family is just the most amazing people I have ever met," said Sarah Butzen, a caregiver at the house on North Greensboro Street and Robert Hunt Drive.

Indeed, even after he was confined to his bed, Brown continued to hold court. At the AIDS Service Agency's Christmas open house, guests had to line up in the hallway outside his room in order to see him.

More recently, Herzenberg said he just popped his head in to say hello so as not to disturb a conversation Brown, who liked to write poetry, was having with noted author and Duke University professor Reynolds Price.

"It was wonderful the way his community rallied to support him," Butzen said. "He actually was never alone."

But his death may have brought Brown relief. Asked the hardest part of having AIDS during a 1995 interview, he did not hesitate.

"Wanting to die ... and knowing it's going to take a while," he said. "I want peace."

The son of Marie and Byron Brown of Encino, Calif., Brown is survived by two sisters, Susan Penrod of Piedmont, Calif., and Nancy Brown of Sherman Oaks, Calif.; and two brothers, Peter Brown of Decatur, Ga., and Andy Brown of Sacramento, Calif.

A memorial will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Friends Meeting House in Chapel Hill. Donations to ACT-UP Triangle may be made c/o Stuart Fisher, 4201 University Drive, Suite 102, Durham 27707.

Lightning Brown recalled as fighter on local, gay issues: Chapel Hill activist dies at 48

The News & Observer, Feb. 13, 1996

By Chris O'Brien

CHAPEL HILL - Even as he lay dying in a Carrboro home for AIDS patients in recent weeks, Lightning Brown couldn't stop working on local issues.

Brown was drafting an ordinance to clarify Chapel Hill's rules for people who run businesses in their homes. It was issues like this one, obscure yet crucial to people's lives, that fired Brown's blood during the past 20 years of being one of the most consistent and persuasive community activists in town. The only thing that finally could stop Brown from getting his way, it seems, was the AIDS virus that finally overwhelmed him Monday. He was 48.

"We have lost a great friend," said Joe Herzenberg, a former Town Council member. "And not just me, but the whole town."

Brown gained his greatest notoriety in 1981 when he became what was thought to be the first openly gay man to run for public office in North Carolina. He did nothing to shrink from his sexual preferences.

But he was unnerved by the amount of prejudice and the number of threats he encountered during the race.

"I think he got a lot of flak that was frightening," said Nancy Brown, his sister, who moved to Chapel Hill several months ago to care for him.

Though he failed in his bid for the Town Council, he became an inspiration for the local gay community.

"He tended to get his way because he kept at it," said Doug Ferguson, a founding member of the Orange Lesbian and Gay Association. "His intent was to make Chapel Hill a great place to live."

Brown's loss in the council race did nothing to diminish his involvement in public life. He became absorbed in local issues. It all flowed from Brown's philosophy, Herzenberg said.

"He believed that local issues mattered the most," he said. "He thought these were the things that really had an impact on people's lives."

That meant organizing apartment tenants in the early 1980s against the threat of building owners who wanted to upgrade to expensive condominiums. It also meant helping the town hammer out a plan to build greenways along area creeks and streams.

And it meant fighting for gay rights not just in the political arena, but also on the personal level. He encouraged gays and lesbians in the area to get involved with organizations and public life so that straight people would meet them and overcome their prejudices.

"He thought that was the most effective route toward gay liberation," Herzenberg said.

Brown came to the Triangle from Oregon in 1976 when he helped a friend move to the area.

Short of money, he stuck around and never left. He took several jobs with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including computer programming.

In 1990, Brown graduated from UNC's law school, but his illness kept him from practicing. So he turned his energies to things such as participating in clinical studies for HIV patients, his sister said.

Last year, Brown was appointed to the Orange Water and Sewer Authority board, of which he had been a frequent critic. He also lobbied local boards a year ago to pass laws banning discrimination against homosexuals.

And when the Chapel Hill Town Council passed a resolution in November honoring him, Brown took the occasion to lobby against a proposed gun sculpture on Franklin Street. He also asked the council to name the Bolin Creek Greenway - which he helped create - after him.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Friends Meeting House on Raleigh Road in Chapel Hill.

The family requests that donations be sent to ACT-UP Triangle.

Friday, January 26, 1996

Some want to remember shooting spree, others want to forget: Chapel Hill marks grim anniversary

The News & Observer, Jan. 26, 1996

CHAPEL HILL - There were no flowers or wreaths Thursday. A bullet hole in a wall of Orrin Robbins' law office was one of the few visible reminders of the tragedy that rocked this college town a year ago today.

For many it is still surreal. Armed with a World War II rifle, a psychotic University of North Carolina law student shot and killed two men, then injured a police officer as he marched up Henderson Street toward the campus. Wendell Williamson's shooting rampage put to rest any remaining illusions that Chapel Hill was immune to random urban violence.

Perceptions differ a year later. Some residents say it's important to remember the traumatic parts of life as well as those that enrich. Others simply want to forget.


Joe Herzenberg, a former Chapel Hill Town Council member, saw Williamson walk up Cobb Terrace and was the first person to call 911.

"It was a very odd experience," Herzenberg said. "It was like having a movie screen descend in your neighborhood. It didn't seem very real."

To Herzenberg, the shootings sometimes feel as though they took place yesterday. Other times, it seems like it was 10 years ago.

Although Herzenberg said he thinks of the incident as a sad milestone in the town's history, he stressed that violent crime in Chapel Hill predates Williamson. Herzenberg cited the shooting of Kristin Lodge-Miller, the jogger murdered on Estes Drive in 1993.

"I don't think {the Williamson shootings} really changed my perception of the town very dramatically," Herzenberg said. "They did hit close to home, though."

Tuesday, January 23, 1996