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.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Chapel Hill political leader and mentor dies at age 66

The Daily Tar Heel, City Briefs, Oct. 29, 2007

Local activist Joe Herzenberg passed away at about 6 p.m. Sunday at UNC Hospitals.

In 1987, Herzenberg was elected to the Chapel Hill Town Council, becoming North Carolina's first openly gay elected official and the first in the south.

Mark Kleinschmidt, an openly-gay Chapel Hill town council member, along with several other local leaders, say they owe their political career to Herzenberg.

Kleinschmidt calls Herzenberg his hero."Joe's one of the most special people in the world to me," Kleinschmidt said. "He was a mentor - not just in politics."

The Equality NC Foundation will honor Joe Herzenberg at the Equality Conference & Gala on Saturday in celebration of the 20th anniversary of his 1987 election. He served on the Chapel Hill Town Council from 1987 to 1993.

He was also a founder of Equality NC PAC, then NC Pride PAC, and served on that board for more than a decade. Since his 1987 election, Herzenberg served the town on several advisory boards.

"You look around the community and see the things that make it a wonderful place to live - you see Joe in all of it," Kleinschmidt said. "Whether that's social politics, our greenways, our libraries, our downtown. Those things were hugely important to them.

"Making sure Chapel Hill was a wonderful place to live and work was something he committed his life to."


nancy c. Brown said...

I have a Joe Herzenberg political button on my dresser with other treasures - so I think of him often. And I'm so grateful for his faithful correspondent to my mother and me.
Sometimes when I'm missing Lightning, I google him: and I love hearing the story of the early days of Joe and Lightning in Chapel Hill. Great people.
Nancy Brown
(Lightning's sister in LA)

nancy c. Brown said...

thinking of Joe and Lightning. Miss both of them, but love reading the wonderful tributes. I have vivid memories of Rosemary St., sipping tea and visiting in the afternoons. And the fabulous stories they could tell.
I am also eternally grateful to Joe for his postcards and notes: so thoughtful.
Nancy Brown
(Lightning's sister in LA)