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.

Saturday, June 27, 1998

Joe's 57th Birthday Dinner, 1998

Joe at his 57th birthday dinner, June 27, 1998. Photo and invite courtesy of Mark Donahue.

Sunday, June 7, 1998

The Henderson Street shootings

Chapel Hill Herald, June 7, 1998

CHAPEL HILL -- During the past several weeks, readers have voted, by mail and via the Internet, on what they see as the 10 most important stories published in The Chapel Hill Herald during the past decade.

3. The Henderson Street shootings.

Joe Herzenberg's first thought was about gun control. Seeing a man walk down your street with a high-powered weapon will do that.

"He was carrying this rifle, and I was thinking, `Is it illegal to carry a rifle on the street?' " said Herzenberg, a Cobb Terrace resident and former town councilman. "And while I was thinking, he turned to the house next door and started firing on it. He was actually killing somebody."

Herzenberg could only watch as a deranged UNC law student, Wendell Williamson, gunned down the first of two men he would kill during his Jan. 26, 1995, shooting rampage.

Ralph Walker Jr., a restaurant worker, died on the steps of his Cobb Terrace rooming house. Williamson's other victim, UNC lacrosse player Kevin Reichardt, fell between two parked cars. He had been riding up Henderson Street on his bike.

Dozens of people witnessed the shootings, and many were lucky not to lose their own lives. Williamson, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, set out that day to kill as many people as possible. He thought himself to have telepathic powers, and was angry that no one believed him.

A jury later acquitted Williamson of his crimes, judging that his insanity freed him of responsibility for his actions. He remains hospitalized in a state mental institution in Morganton.