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.

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.

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