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Health department donned with local pioneer physician’s name

February 9th, 2014 9:22 pm by Tony Casey

Health department donned with local pioneer physician’s name

Stan and Eric Law, great-great grandsons of Dr. Hezekiah Hankal unveil a plaque in his honor.

If Boones Creek Historical Trust member Vicki Shell’s prediction comes to fruition, don’t be surprised to see the story of Dr. Hezekiah Hankal play out on the big screen in upcoming years.

He deserves that level of recognition, she said, and the many prominent public officials and others at a dedication ceremony held in his honor Sunday may agree. She said a project like this is already in the works.

The Washington County Health Department building was named for the local pioneer during the ceremony.

Perseverance was the name of the game with Hankal (1825-1903), and perseverance was needed in getting the county health department named after the man.

“We have a big election year coming up,” Shell said to the audience of nearly 200 people. “I don’t want to hear any whining. Eleven years. The man ran for 11 years.”

Shell was referencing Hankal’s journey to becoming Johnson City’s first elected African-American alderman on March 23, 1887, after losing four times prior. That’s perseverance, Shell said.

Hankal’s historic accomplishments didn’t stop at serving publicly. He also served as a physician when black doctors treating white patients wasn’t well accepted.

State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, touched on this while reading an official proclamation set to be displayed inside the health department from the state Senate about Hankal’s work. He spoke about the cholera epidemic of 1873, and how Hankal not only treated both black and white patients, but aided fellow physicians on how to successfully treat the outbreak. Crowe said history showed Hankal’s patients to have survived the ailment better than those of his colleagues.

All who stepped up to the microphone shared stories about the impact Hankal had on the region, but none were as excited about the dedication as Langston Heritage Group Chairwoman Mary H. Alexander.

“There’s not a drug addict that’s ever been as high as I am now,” Alexander said to the crowd. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen.”

She said her group’s mission is to illuminate African-American heritage, and this is just about the finest example she could think of. Perseverance, she said, is watching involved parties not give up on honoring Hankal and finally putting his name on something so close to his heart, public health and healing, about 110 years after his death.

Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin said it’s rare to have a dedication be so fitting to the work of an individual. Nothing is more applicable than to have Hankal’s name on the health department, Van Brocklin said.

Education and faith were other focuses in Hankal’s life, said Jeff Douds, pastor of West Main Street Christian Church.

“My congregation was founded by Hezekiah Hankal in 1869 in a log schoolhouse,” Douds said. “He did what he did in a difficult time.”

Vincent Dial, pastor of Bethel Christian Church in Jonesborough, joked that it needed to be pointed out that Hankal founded his church three years prior to founding Doud’s, and noted Hankal worked as a minister in the area.

“They believe he baptized over 400 converts,” Dial said.

Hankal’s great-great grandson Eric Law said he was very grateful to see the building dedicated. Lawe said Hankal’s accomplishments weren’t just historical, they were timeless.

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