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, December 16, 2005

Grannies rage for Bill of Rights

News & Observer, Dec. 16, 2005

By Meiling Arounnarath

Margaret Misch wore an orange jumpsuit with a black hood over her head, while a group of grandmothers dressed as the Statue of Liberty sang songs of peace Thursday.

Huddled with them beneath the roof of the Franklin Street post office, another group of 10 people read, one by one, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

They were, each in their own ways, marking a national holiday: Bill of Rights Day.

The Bill of Rights ensures U.S. citizens have the right to be tried in front of a jury and the right to bear arms, among many others.

It also also guarantees people the freedoms of speech and assembly, which Misch and the Raging Grannies were exercising inches from the cold, winter rain.

Misch, 75, who helped found the Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, was protesting the treatment of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib and Cuba's Guantanamo Bay prisons.

In addition to her outfit, Misch held a sign that read "We 'indict' torture" above an image of a red, octagonal stop sign. Instead of letters spelling out "STOP," the octagon framed a silhouette of a person in a hood and loose-fitting garment. Electrical wires dangled from the figure's arms and groin.

Torture is an inhumane way for the military, FBI and CIA to get information from prisoners, from "persons, no matter if they are a citizen, tourist or person with a green card," Misch said.

Beside her, the Raging Grannies, in pale green T-shirts and foam Lady Liberty crowns, took a lighter approach -- singing songs to protest the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act.

"We're the Raging Grannies singing our songs / Doo Dah, Doo Dah ... We don't like the Patriot Act / Doo Doo, Doo Doo."

Lori Hoyt, a mother of five and grandmother of 10, helped found the group.

"We started because we all just hold values that say violence does not make for a better place, war does not make for peace," the Carrboro resident said. "We're deeply concerned about what kind of world we're leaving to our children and our grandchildren."

Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton and Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy, who issued Bill of Rights Day proclamations in their towns, also participated.

"It's important to remember the basic principles on which our nation was founded, even if people are not always comfortable with hearing it," Foy said. "The freedom of speech and religion actually means something."

Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy is flanked by Raging Grannies as he reads a Bill of Rights proclamation at the Franklin Street Post Office. From left are Jane Hare, Wynn Berg, Elisabeth Curtis, Ann Powers and Lori Hoyt.

(Editor's note: Joe helped organize this annual event at the Peace and Justice Plaza outside the Chapel Hill post office on Franklin Street. He was always one of the ten readers of the Bill of Rights.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Name change remains divisive: On first birthday, battle lines persist

The Daily Tar Heel, Dec. 6, 2005

Controversy still travels down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, formerly Airport Road, one year after the Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously voted for the name change and ended an 11-month debate.

The street formally was dubbed its new title last May on the 45th anniversary of King's visit to Chapel Hill, but it was on Dec. 6, 2004 that the council received a standing ovation for its decision to proceed with the renaming.


Fred Battle, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he is "still elated about it."

He represents the voice of many residents who think the name change was the best way to remember the historical figure.

"It makes me feel good to live in a community that commemorates the civil rights movement," said Yonni Chapman, a committee member. "I think many people in the community feel it was about time that Chapel Hill honored Dr. King."


One year later, former council member and committee member Joe Herzenberg said that with more time the community gradually will grow to embrace the new name.

"As with anything of this kind, there are still plenty of people who call it Airport Road." Herzenberg said. "Increasingly over the years, people will begin to forget Airport and think Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard."

"Whenever I drive by and look at the signs, I feel good."

Unveiling of MLK Jr. Blvd street sign in Chapel Hill, 2005.