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, December 15, 2010

RIP Alice the cat

Rest in Peace Alice the cat. :(

She had cancer. She was the sweetest. We are going to spread her ashes over Uncle Joe's grave in the spring. She was a great cat and will be missed.

- Sarah Herzenberg

Alice, Spring/Summer 2010

Alice was Joe's cat, who went to live with his family in New Jersey when Joe died. During his trip to Africa with Kathie Young in 2005, Joe had a memorable encounter with one of Alice's cousins.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Be proud

Indy Weekly, September 29, 2010

by D.L. Anderson

Last weekend, a wave of rainbow colors filled the streets around Duke's East Campus in celebration of N.C. PrideFest. About 2,000 people participated in the parade and nearly 10,000 watched it, according to John Short, executive director of the annual gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender festival, which celebrated its 26th year. "We're also seeing much greater participation from straight allies and the community," Short said.

Joe Herzenberg Memorial Arch at NC Pride 2010. Photo by Jake Geller-Goad.

Beyond the wild color, celebration and naughty humor, N.C. PrideFest is still rooted in the serious struggle for equality for the LGBT community. "It started with a murder, then a march and now a parade," added Short, referring to "Our Day Out," a 1981 march and protest in Durham against the beating and murder of a man assumed to be gay. Speaking at the first official gay pride march in 1986, Joe Herzenberg, who would soon become the South's first openly gay elected official as a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, said, "There is no way to get from here to there except by coming out, joining together and marching."

Joe at front of NC Pride 1991 march. Photo from Chapel Hill Herald, 4-25-93.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sean Rowe: New Times Writer/Author/Poet Is Dead

Miami New Times, August 30, 2010

By Chuck Strouse

Pretty much every word Sean Rowe ever spoke was poetry. Even after he was hit by a train and survived.

I don't say that as praise. I'm not fawning. He just had a way about him.

He arrived in Miami in 1989 to work at the Miami Herald, where I was also employed. Back then, we tooled around town while he talked in a North Carolina lilt about love, redemption in the woods, and dozens of things he had no clue about but loved to describe. I think we planned to cover an Orange Bowl parade but never really made it. I liked listening to the guy blather, so I just kept driving.

Sean, who died recently (nobody is really talking about details), left the Herald for New Times not long after that misadventure. He was a crazy man who provided much of the creativity that got this paper started in its early days. Everybody who was around here back then or knew Sean has a favorite story -- not only from the things he wrote, which were amazing, but also from the real-life adventures he led.

Sean, Joe, Kathie Young and friend, late 90s

The most famous one in New Times lore was Sean's departure from the Fort Lauderdale paper. At a party in the Himmarshee district, he was laying coins on a railroad track when a locomotive surprised him. He was thrown a long way and cracked a vertebra. He began assembling the plot to his novel on the way to the emergency room.

Fever is a novel you should buy. You won't regret it. Also, here are some links to Sean's stories in Miami and New Times Broward-Palm Beach.

The last story I remember was him telling me about reading the New York Times to a bunch of prisoners in a North Carolina jail -- after he mooned the judge. Of course, he also wrote a pretty wonderful novel, Fever, and charmed the globe.

Sometimes the wheels rolled off Sean's wagon. He'd mount 'em again and keep moving forward. This time, there's no putting 'em back on, but what the heck -- the prose ain't dead.


Sean was one of Joe's close friends and traveling companions. In 1987, while a Morehead scholar at UNC-CH, Sean covered Joe's victorious Town Council campaign for Lambda, the CGLA newsletter. He became an author and award-winning journalist in Miami before returning to North Carolina. Recordings of Sean telling two stories at The Monti storytelling event in Chapel Hill are posted online. Friends gathered at Margaret's Cantina on Labor Day (Sept. 6) for a potluck dinner to remember him.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Remembering King

Carrboro Citizen, January 14, 2010

If you’ve recently made your way across the square in front of Chapel Hill’s downtown post office, you may have noticed an inscription near the flagpole that says “Peace & Justice Plaza.”

Below those words are the names of eight individuals — men and women, black and white — who were at the forefront of this community’s civil rights efforts. Below that are the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “True peace is not merely the absence of negative forces, it is the presence of justice.”

You may or may not know the names Charlotte Adams, Henry Anderson, James Brittian, Joe Herzenberg, Mildred Ringwalt, Joe and Lucy Straley and Gloria Williams. They’re largely responsible for that little square in front of the post office being hallowed ground. It was the setting for countless rallies and protests during the civil rights era and each year on the third Monday in January it serves again as a gathering spot for those dedicated to keeping King’s dream alive.

There the NAACP’s annual rally in remembrance of King and the cause he fought and died for begins on Monday at 9 a.m. From there, the annual march down Franklin Street will start at 9:30 and proceed down to First Baptist Church on Roberson Street for a worship service. The service starts at 10:30 a.m. Tim Tyson, author of the book Blood Done Signed My Name and an extensive study of the 1898 Wilmington Riots, will be the keynote speaker.

The rally, march and worship service are among dozens of events throughout the community, including several for those who want to honor King with a day of service to their community.