Campaign flyer from Joe’s first Chapel Hill Town Council race, 1979

About Joe

My photo
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, March 29, 2006

Leaders look to honor corner: Cite post office's historic presence

The Daily Tar Heel, March 29, 2006

Its history has never been quiet.

Beginning with the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, the Franklin Street post office plaza has remained a site where residents go to make their voices heard loud and clear.


To honor the plaza's unique history, the council is looking for a fitting tribute for the site, opting at its Monday meeting to hold a public hearing on the matter in the future.


Joe Herzenberg, a member of the continuing concerns committee, which was set up to address race relations after Airport Road was named in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., also suggested to the council Monday that three (local) men be commemorated at the site.

Then-UNC students John Dunne and Pat Cusick and Quinton Baker, a student at the N.C. College for Negroes (now N.C. Central University), participated in a vigil and fast in the plaza on Easter of 1964, Herzenberg said.

March, 1964. L-R: Patrick Cusick, LaVert Taylor, John Dunne, James Foushee. Photo by Jim Wallace.

Like the people who gathered there, the plaza has a history in and of itself.

Now owned by the town, the site was once the property of the federal government.

"Because of that, the Chapel Hill police could not arrest people on federal property," Herzenberg said.

Council seeking names for plaza

Chapel Hill News, March 29, 2006

The initial proposal was to name the plaza for Charlotte Adams and Joe and Lucy Straley, local civil rights and peace activists who used the post office plaza as a soapbox to spread their message.

The naming committee suggested they could be honored with plaques in the plaza. But (council member) Sally Greene said the committee also recognized that others also might be worthy of honor and options should be left open.

Former council member Joe Herzenberg started the bidding with a suggestion to also name the plaza, or something else at some point, for three leaders of the civil rights movement in Chapel Hill.

"First of all, I have no problem -- how could I have a problem? -- with Joe and Lucy and Charlotte," Herzenberg said.

"Great citizens of our town. But at some point in the future ... there ought to be some official town notice of the three main leaders of the civil rights movement in Chapel Hill: John Dunne, Pat Cusick and Quinton Baker. They did back in 1963 and 1964 what very few citizens of our town were willing to do, unfortunately, which was to stand up for what was right," he said. "They deserve some acknowledgment."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cousin Alice - Joe's entry in 2006 Chapel Hill Community Art Project

Cousin Alice

Artist's Name: Joe Herzenberg

Age: 64

Statement: When I feel myself lost I often go on my travels. This cheetah, Cousin Alice, seemed lost herself. She wandered about for some time.

[Editor's note: This photo was Joe's entry in the 2006 Chapel Hill Community Art Project. According to Kathie Young, during their trip to Africa, she and Joe followed Cousin Alice (a relation of Joe's cat Alice) for a long time. Eventually, she stopped, and stood still for what seemed like an eternity.]

Building on the great success of the 2004 Self Portrait Project and the 2005 Dream Project, the Chapel Hill Public Arts Commission is pleased to announce the theme for the 2006 Community Art Project - Lost and Found.

What have you lost? What have you found?

Now in its third very successful year, this community-wide exhibition will be on view in public places throughout Chapel Hill and Carrboro in Spring 2006. Take this opportunity to create!

To be a part of this project, the CHPAC invites everyone who lives/works/plays in Chapel Hill and Carrboro to create an artwork based on the theme Lost & Found. Any interpretation of Lost & Found is acceptable – be creative! What have you lost? What have you found? Does it relate to the materials you use or the concept you choose? You decide!

The reception for the 2006 "Lost and Found" Community Art Project will be held on March 23 at the Chapel Hill Museum, located at 523 East Franklin St. in Chapel Hill from 7 until 9 pm.

Joe and Bob Herzenberg at the Ava Gardner Museum - portrait by Kathie Young


Artist's Name: Kathie Young

Age: 63

Statement: I took this photo of my best friend and his brother having coffee after a visit to the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield. My camera captured the souls of these two aging men. I enhanced the photograph by inserting old family photographs and memorabilia to aid it in fitting the category 'Lost and Found'. I call my embellished art photograph 'ANOTHER LOST MOMENT IN A FOUND PHOTOGRAPH.'

(Editor's note: This portrait was Kathie Young's entry in the 2006 Chapel Hill Community Art Project, featuring Joe and Bob Herzenberg, who was visiting from New Jersey. In the photos on the wall behind Bob, Kathie can be seen hugging Joe on the night of his first election victory in 1987.)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A bow to integration

The News & Observer, Raleigh NC, Feb. 11, 2006 - Letter to the Editor

The obituary last month of opera singer Birgit Nilsson reminded me that she was more than a great soprano.

In 1964, students at Tougaloo College, a black institution in central Mississippi, contacted guest artists who were scheduled to appear with the Jackson (Miss.) Symphony. At that time the symphony was segregated, that is, there were no blacks in the orchestra and blacks were not admitted to the concerts. The students asked the artists to cancel their appearances, at least until the symphony desegregated.

Birgit Nilsson did so, despite the considerable cost to her for breaking her contract.

So, in her passing, we have lost both a great voice and a great heart.

Joe Herzenberg
Chapel Hill

(The writer, a former Chapel Hill Town Council member, is a former assistant professor of history at Tougaloo College.)