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, September 1, 2001

The last 'white racist politician'

Chapel Hill Herald, Sept. 1, 2001


Washington Post columnist David Broder deserves the Hemingway "built-in bull-- detector award" for all time for cutting through all the embarrassing nonsense that has been published in recent days about the retirement of Sen. Jesse Helms.

Broder wrote: "Those who believe that the 'liberal press' always has its knives sharpened for Republicans and conservatives must have been flummoxed by the coverage of Sen. Jesse Helms' announcement last week that he will not run for re-election next year in North Carolina. The reporting on his retirement was circumspect to the point of pussyfooting."


As a homosexual, I also have been troubled in recent years by Helms' attempt to raise the specter of a new kind of sexism or homophobia. Where once he accused Graham of being a communist sympathizer, he later said Hunt was supported by "homosexuals, labor unions and bloc votes" (meaning blacks).

Former town councilman Joe Herzenberg, the first openly gay elected official in our state, agrees with me that there was not a trace of sincerity in Helms' anti-homosexual rhetoric. His advisers had merely told him this was a new hot-button issue; it had worked to bring in millions of dollars to Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, it would work for Helms.