There’s effort afoot to see that Dr. Hezekiah Hankal finally gets the recognition he so deserves.
You might be asking: Who is Dr. Hezekiah Hankal? My answer is: One of the most brilliant and accomplished individuals ever to live in Washington County. Sadly, there is no school, no government building not even a street named for Dr. Hankal.
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. But as I noted in a column last year, it seems too small a gesture of remembrance for a man some historians say helped make Johnson City what it is today.
The words on the historic marker in front of West Main Street Christian Church sum up Hankal’s life nicely:
Dr. Hezekiah Hankal
Raised by a Dutch family, Hankal would become 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.
Dr. Hankal 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 many talents 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).
Remarkable is the word I’ve heard Mary Alexander — a local historian and member of the Langston Heritage Group — use in discussing Dr. Hankal. Alexander learned a lot about him while doing research for her thesis on African-American history in Johnson City. She found he was very much responsible for helping Johnson City grow and become an important center of commerce and trade.
Alexander has described Dr. Hankal as a “true renaissance man.” She’s right.
For several years now, Alexander has been asking that Hankal be paid the respect he so richly deserves. She thinks it would fitting for a local school, medical facility or government building to bear his name.
Some officials at Johnson City’s Municipal and Safety Building agree with her. Alexander was recently contacted on behalf of City Manager Pete Peterson, who has suggested the Washington County Health Department building on Princeton Road might be an appropriate place for Dr. Hankal’s name.
Alexander agrees, and hopes to convince her former colleagues on the Washington County Commission to name the health department building for Hankal. The building is owned by the county, and Alexander believes county commissioners will want to honor a man as accomplished as Hankal.
“His name on the health department building would be a perfect fit,” she said. “He lived in the city, but he was ordained as a minister in the county. Boones Creek, to be exact.”
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.