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.

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.

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