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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Video footage of Joe Herzenberg in his element, speaking before the Chapel Hill Town Council

Chapel Hill Town Council Meeting, June 27, 2007

In June, 2007, Joe appeared before the Chapel Hill Town Council to alert the town to the paperback reissue of The Free Men, John Ehle's landmark history of Chapel Hill's desegregation protests during 1963-64. Joe praised the book as "one of the best ever written about the civil rights movement in any town."

The Free Men was originally published in 1965, but had been out of print for many years. He urged members of the council and the entire community to read the book and remember the town's history, even though it was "not a very happy story...almost nobody in Chapel Hill, except students, primarily black students, did what they ought to have done."

According to Kevin Watson, co-owner of Press 53, the Winston-Salem based publisher that reissued the book, Joe "bought the first copy of the reissued version of The Free Men. He bought eight, in fact."


SUMMARY MINUTES: Joe Herzenberg mentioned a book titled "The Free Men," written by John Ehle, which is about the civil rights movement. He described it as the best book ever written about Chapel Hill and gave a copy to Mayor Foy. Mr. Herzenberg encouraged Council members to read it.