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, 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.)