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.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Joe's passion for life

Tribute by Jonathan Courtland at Joe's memorial service in Chapel Hill, Nov. 15, 2007

Different people in different places have written of Joe's myriad of social works. Obviously these need to be remembered; they were his greatest passion. But they weren't his only one. I loved Joe's passion for life - his love of people of all stripes, of movies (what great reviews!), of opera, Mozart, Vermeer, fine food (of course not furry creatures - he loved them as well), good tea, of travel all over the world and much more.

It's nice to recount some of these more personal things to each other. Also, because of his nature, we are all having to help fill in the blanks. I think I can help on a couple things. As for his Judaism, I believe Joe was bar mitzvahed at 13. This is classic Joe - I don't think his father practiced his religion, but Joe, after having read about many different faiths, decided he wanted to be a practicing Jew. As a teenager, Joe was often called to the synagogue to help make a minion (10 adult Jews needed for God to hear their prayers). I do think his faith became more important to him over the last few years.

Joe didn't quite get to all the Vermeers - I believe there were a couple in Germany and another somewhere else in Europe that he missed. (Though if he did see all the ones on public display he planned on knocking on the door of the woman who owns the one not publicly shown - I think a widow of a Johnson & Johnson heir in NJ - I always liked the mental image I have of this possible encounter).

He decided he wanted to concentrate his last travels elsewhere. He did make it to all fifty states. The last couple were within the last few years. One of my favorite Joe postcards was from his last state (Missouri?) - it said only "How about the territories?".

Concerning his papers, Joe did mention to me a number of times over the last few years that he wondered if Wilson Library would be interested. He wrote in his journal daily from the day Stalin died (1956?) until he fell ill a couple years ago. I, for one, would certainly be interested in reading what he wrote. I sure do miss him.

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