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, March 19, 2004

Spencer in a different context

Chapel Hill Herald, March 19, 2004 - Letter to the Editor

With respect to Cornelia Phillips Spencer, Chancellor James Moeser suggests that she be judged in the context of the time (i.e., Reconstruction, that period of U.S. history when racial views were most fluid). That's fine. How about going one step further and judging her in the context of her own family?

Samuel Field Phillips, Mrs. Spencer's brother, did such a good job at prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan when he was a federal attorney in Raleigh that President Grant appointed him solicitor general, the second highest position in the Department of Justice. He served for 12 years under four presidents.

As solicitor general he defended civil rights legislation before an increasingly conservative Supreme Court. And then, late in life, Phillips came out of retirement in 1896 to represent Thomas Plessy, a man of color from Louisiana who wanted a better seat on a train. Unfortunately Phillips, Plessy and all of us lost -- in Plessy v. Ferguson.

So when it came to racial matters central to the democratic struggle in the late 19th century, who can deny that Samuel Phillips (and not his sister Cornelia) is the better American hero -- for then and now.

P.S. We should all thank Yonni Chapman for helping us appreciate our past.

Joe Herzenberg
Chapel Hill

Thursday, March 4, 2004

I cannot imagine how anyone thought John Kerry would be more electable than John Edwards

Edwards' Exit: Thanks supporters, commends Kerry, won't say what's next
Charlotte Observer, March 4, 2004

U.S. Sen. John Edwards, the mill-town kid turned millionaire lawyer turned major presidential candidate, ended his bid for the White House with an endorsement for his chief rival, rousing words for his supporters and no hint of his future plans. Edwards stepped aside Wednesday in a carefully choreographed announcement at Raleigh's Broughton High School, which his oldest son and daughter attended.


"I cannot imagine how anyone thought John Kerry would be more electable than John Edwards, but I guess people were concerned about the experience," said Joe Herzenberg, a former member of the Chapel Hill Town Council and liberal activist.