Dr. Hankal’s name may grace county Health Department

Gary B. Gray • Sep 14, 2013 at 9:31 PM

Dr. Hezekiah B. Hankal was a man worth remembering.

The Washington County Commission will be considering a resolution at its October meeting to name the Health Department on Princeton Road in honor of Hankal, a man who made a significant and positive impact on the lives of East Tennesseans through his work with the YMCA and other programs.

“I can confirm that a resolution was drafted by the County Owned Property Committee last month .... ,” County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Friday. “As of today, we’re still waiting to hear from the health department. It is operated in partnership with the state of Tennessee, so we need to get their acknowledgment.”

Eric Law, one of Hankal’s great-great-grandsons, told the Johnson City Press on Friday that the effort to honor his remarkable relative has been under way for some time.

“My brother and I were able to visit Johnson City a few years back to see his legacy, and we were thrilled to learn of his accomplishments.”

His name is on a state historical marker near a church in Johnson City that served as a school for black children when Hankal founded it in 1889. The words on that marker in front of West Main Street Christian Church sum up Hankal’s life nicely: Dr. Hezekiah Hankal; 1825-1903; Minister; Physician; Educator; Politician.

Raised by a Dutch family, Hankal was the first black man in Washington County to hold a teaching certificate. He was an educator who established the first school for blacks in Johnson City. He was also a minister who started a number of churches in the area and served on the Johnson City Board of Aldermen beginning in 1887.

He was a gifted physician whose skills were sought by both black and white patients. He was credited with saving many lives during the devastating cholera epidemic of 1873. His talents also earned him prominence in Johnson City. He served on the local grand jury (something that few black citizens were asked to do in the South at the time) and he was elected as a city alderman in the late 1880s (also something unheard of at the time).

Law also wrote a letter to commissioners this week, expressing his and his brothers’ delight that the County Commission would be considering the resolution. Both he and his brother, Stan, have tried to continue that legacy by devoting our careers to improving the lives of others.

Eric has worked for more than 30 years in education, philanthropy and nonprofit management, and is now executive director of Hands On Charlotte, which connects thousands of volunteers each year to other nonprofits that need them. Stan has spent nearly 25 years as a YMCA executive, and started work in February as president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Birmingham in Alabama.

“The mission of the YMCA is realized through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all,” Law wrote. “As a pioneering clergyman, educator and physician, Dr. Hezekiah Hankal had a significant positive impact on the lives of East Tennesseans in each of these three areas, and set a powerful example for the two of us and for so many others.

“We are most grateful to so many friends and family members who have helped to bring this effort to your attention and ours, including Professor Mary Alexander (and fellow members of the Langston Heritage Group), Vicki Shell (and fellow members of the Boones Creek Historical Trust), Dr. Donald Shaffer, Robert Houk of the Johnson City Press and our cousin Shelia Jones.”

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