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

We were family

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

Joe and I were best friends for about 30 years. We were family. All of you are aware of the various contributions Joe made to our community and society so I am not going to talk about any of them.

We traveled to Alaska and Africa together during his last years. We talked on the phone several times a day. Wednesday nights we had dinner together followed by grocery shopping. When he felt up to it after shopping I would leave him at Cafe Driade and Mark K. would give him a ride home.

As best friends we shared each others' joys and sadness. I am privileged to have been able to help Joe enjoy a more comfortable life for the past year. All of the time I spent with him will forever be with me.

Once several years ago Joe asked me to go to the movies to see Daniel Wallace’s “The Big Fish.” I asked what it was about. Joe said, “It’s about the kind of funeral I want.” I was surprised as the movie began because I didn’t understand what Joe meant. Midway through the movie I understood and both Joe and I cried like “girls” till the end. Those tears were wonderful tears of love, joy and understanding.

I left the theater knowing that Joe wanted me to be the person piecing together the stories he had gathered over the years. And I, too, like Will Bloom, began to understand Joe’s great feats and his great failings. I am so happy Joe let me carry him into the water.

I want to thank my husband, Roy, for being so understanding of my absences and my two sons, Fred and David for offering me so much strength and support when I needed it.

I will also miss Joe and am so happy that he was such a huge part of our lives.

Joe in Africa, 2006.

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