Campaign flyer from Joe’s first Chapel Hill Town Council race, 1979

About Joe

My photo
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, November 14, 2007

No one like Joe

I can't remember when Joe and I first met but it had to be a long time ago - in those fine days when he was serving for the first time on the Town Council and when gays boys dared to walk down the street holding hands and even kissing - even if only occasionally - in public - before the Reagan years made the street less friendly.

It's not easy being a gay poet in North Carolina - and it's not just because of the poetry establishment, but also because the gay community can sometime ignore poetry as gingerly as the rest of society. Joe was always interested.

Running into Joe on the street was pleasurable always, enlightening frequently.

When we ran into each other he would ask what I was writing and what I was thinking. Joe never hesitated, either, to open his purse and contribute financially to projects I was working on, or to offer to buy my works - although because I felt I owed him so much I would never let him buy. As with everyone else, he wanted to talk movies too, and that was always a source of debate, good cheer, dismay, and excitement. I was surprised and delighted when a framed photograph of giraffes appeared in the mail one day after Joe's trip to Africa.

Joe also stepped forward, when few others did, after I started the Save West House Coalition. He wrote letters, he talked, he encouraged. I'll never forget his generosity then - nor how we both lamented the passing of many charms of Chapel Hill and wondered why progress had to mean destruction for some of the things we loved. We agreed it didn't have to.

When I moved to Chapel Hill in 1975 the town had lots of eccentrics. Joe wasn't one then, but I was glad he became one. He was one of the last. Luckily there are still a few around, but no one like Joe. My partner, Stanley Finch, and I will miss him. Love you Joe!

Jeffery Beam
UNC-Chapel Hill

Joe on the move in Africa, 2006.

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