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, February 21, 2001

Roses to Joe Herzenberg

Chapel Hill News, Feb. 21, 2001 - Roses and Raspberries

Roses to Joe Herzenberg of Chapel Hill and Bonnie Davis of Hillsborough, co-winners of this year's Pauli Murray Human Relations Award.

The honor is given by the Orange County Human Relations Commission to residents who have served the pursuit of equality, justice and human rights for all citizens.

The award is made in the name of the Rev. Pauli Murray, the first ordained black woman priest in the Episcopal Church, who lived in Durham and performed services at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill.

Herzenberg deserves recognition for his persistent advocacy on behalf of the disenfranchised and victims of discrimination. A former Chapel Hill Town Council member, he is chair of the Chapel Hill Greenway Commission and the Merritt Pasture Access Committee.


The awards will be presented Sunday at 1 p.m. in a ceremony at A.L. Stanback Middle School.

Sunday, February 18, 2001

Award honors 4 for human relations work

Chapel Hill Herald, Feb. 18, 2001

HILLSBOROUGH - The Orange County Human Relations Commission has named three residents and a local business as winners of this year's Pauli Murray Human Relations awards.

For the first time, the individual Murray Human Relations Award went to two people - Bonnie Davis of Hillsborough and Joe Herzenberg of Chapel Hill.


The overall aim of the Murray awards is to honor those with a "significant history of promoting and fostering better human relations among the diverse residents of Orange County."

The award program gets its name from the Rev. Pauli Murray, who focused on human relations in many roles, including her work as the first black woman in the country ordained in the Episcopal Church, in 1977.


The individual Murray award goes to residents who have worked to foster conciliation, human rights, diversity and/or equality in Orange County.


Joe Herzenberg moved to Chapel Hill in 1969 to study American history as a graduate student. His first history professor told Herzenberg about Pauli Murray, and he was so intrigued, he tracked down a copy of her book, "Proud Shoes."

"She's just a great role model for anybody," Herzenberg said about Murray. "She viewed herself as an American, of both African and European descent. She never saw anything narrowly. She saw the civil rights movement as a way to liberate not just black people, but white people as well. She was pretty much interested in everything."

Herzenberg, 59, is a native of Franklin, N.J., and he had been teaching at a black college in Mississippi before he came to Chapel Hill. He has been active in local politics and issues for many years, serving on a number of advisory boards and committees.

He is chairman of Chapel Hill's Greenways Commission and the Merritt Pasture Access Committee. He served eight years on the Chapel Hill Town Council before resigning in 1993, in the midst of controversy over his pleading guilty to a tax evasion charge.

Herzenberg laughed Friday in recalling the recent phone call in which he learned about the award. He said he initially joked with the caller that he didn't want the award, because he felt such awards were supposed to go to older residents.

"I'm actually quite happy," he said. "This award is one that I'm especially honored to get."

Herzenberg said his focus in the past three decades primarily has been on civil rights for black residents and on gay and lesbian rights.

Wednesday, February 14, 2001

UNC removal of magnolia for utilities irks residents

Chapel Hill Herald, Feb. 14, 2001

CHAPEL HILL - For three decades, Ken Jackson has enjoyed the view of the UNC campus he has from his jewelry store window.

Thus, the recent removal of a towering magnolia tree near Franklin Street has saddened Jackson and others who treasure the beauty of the campus.

"I was very heartsick," said Jackson, who owns Franklin Street's Wentworth & Sloan. "I've looked at that tree every day for the last 30 years. It's a loss."

The tree came down about two weeks ago, the result of a new campus building project. It was in the way and its destruction couldn't be avoided, said UNC officials, themselves sorry to see the tree go.

Jackson, for one, accepts the university's explanation that the tree had to be removed to install a utility line. But others in town aren't so easily convinced.

"It seems to me they could have planned better," said Joe Herzenberg, a town resident who, as a member of the Town Council in the late 1980s, led a town task force on tree protection. "They took the shortest distance between two points for this utility line. If they had gone 20 yards to the east, closer to Battle Hall, they could have avoided the roots of the tree."

The tree stood back from the street just west of Battle-Vance-Pettigrew. It was slated to be preserved, but construction on a new Institute for the Arts and Humanities nearby took an unplanned twist. To hook the new institute into an existing water line on the north side of Franklin Street, construction workers had to build a larger, deeper hole than was originally thought. The hole was needed to bore under Franklin Street to reach the water line. The other option, to tear up Franklin Street and build a new line under it, was less feasible. So, the tree had to be removed.

"I really had nowhere to go on this," said Kirk Pelland, UNC's grounds director. "The tree couldn't be saved."

And university officials say there's nothing to Herzenberg's claim that they simply could have moved the path of the utility line slightly, to work around the tree.

"It's not that easy, and you have to weigh your disruptions," said Anna Wu, UNC's associate director for facilities planning and design. "It proved to be the best alternative."

But the decision has left Herzenberg unsatisfied, a sentiment he expressed in a recent letter penned to UNC Chancellor James Moeser. The decision, he said, points to a larger issue involving the university's philosophy concerning campus development.

"The big point is that the university has its eye on master plans, on campus and for the Horace Williams property," he said. "They tend to be not as careful about the smaller points, which are also important - in this case, the tree."

But facilities planners say the university does make those so-called "smaller points" a priority and pledge to beautify the area around the institute once construction finishes. Bruce Runberg, associate vice chancellor for facilities services, has pledged to plant a new magnolia tree nearby to replace the old one.

"Our intention is to go back and re-landscape that area," Wu said. "We will restore that area."

Jackson, the jewelry store owner, accepts the price of progress. Still, he's sorry to see the old magnolia go. "It was an older tree," he said. "The older I got, the greater appreciation I had for older things. It was a beautiful tree."

Friday, February 2, 2001

Schools do the right thing on Boy Scouts

Chapel Hill Herald, Feb. 2, 2001 - Letter to the Editor

What our Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education voted was not only fair and wise - but the right thing to do. The school board cannot support programs, however splendid, that are not open to all children.

The Boy Scouts may be a wonderful organization. If so, the organization should be open to all boys. And I'm pleased to note that local Scout leaders seem to be opposed to the exclusionary policy of the national organization. That policy, sooner or later, will be changed.

Joe Herzenberg
Chapel Hill