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, October 31, 2007

North Carolina's First Gay Elected Official Dies

The Advocate, Los Angeles CA, Oct. 31, 2007

Joe Herzenberg, a longtime activist and the first openly gay elected official in North Carolina, died Sunday. He was 66. Herzenberg had been ill for several years, his friend Kathie Young told The [Raleigh] News & Observer. He died at the University of North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill of complications from diabetes.

Herzenberg moved to Chapel Hill after graduating from Yale in the 1970s. He unsuccessfully ran for town council in 1979 but was appointed to a vacancy through 1981. He kept campaigning until he won in 1987.

Mark Kleinschmidt, a current town council member, told The News & Observer that when he was a young gay man eyeing the political arena, he considered Herzenberg his personal hero. "He's part of the reason that Chapel Hill became my hometown," he said. "You look around this community, you just see his fingerprints on everything that makes this community such a nice place to live."

Herzenberg left the town council in 1993 after neglecting to pay state taxes, a charge for which he pleaded guilty.

Herzenberg is survived by a brother, Bob Herzenberg. He will be cremated, and his ashes will be buried in New Jersey, Young said.

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