“When I started my search, I thought ‘This is a Renaissance man,’ ” Alexander said. “He’s a politician, he’s a doctor, he’s a minister. I couldn’t believe that I had been here all my life and never, ever heard of him.”
Alexander was present at Thursday’s meeting of the Johnson City/Washington County Liaison committee to request that the body issue a letter of support to the Washington County Commission to name the Health Department building on Princeton Road in honor of Hankal by renaming it the Dr. Hezekiah B. Hankal Building.
Hankal was born in the 1820s in the Boones Creek area. He was ordained by the Boones Creek Christian Church. Alexander said Hankal’s ordination was done, in part, so that he could evangelize newly freed slaves. The church’s chronicle said Hankal is crediting with baptizing more than 400 converts, Alexander said.
Hankal was also one of the first black men to hold a teaching certificate in the area. Not only did he establish the first school for blacks in Johnson City, but Alexander said Hankal also was the “unofficial” superintendent of local colored schools. In this capacity, Hankal was responsible for the schools’ facilities, locations, personnel, budgets and equipment, Alexander said.
Alexander said Hankal came to prominence as a physician during the cholera epidemic of 1873, and is credited with saving the lives of both black and white patients. Hankal was recognized with a state historical marker for having an integrated medical practice, Alexander said.
“You’re in the segregation era. That was unheard of,” she said. “Black people and white people could not sit in the same waiting room in a doctor’s office. ... For him to have this kind of rapport with white citizens was very unusual.”
Hankal also served on juries in the late 1800s, which was very uncommon, and he was the first black elected official in the area, Alexander said. Hankal was elected to the Johnson City Board of Aldermen in 1887. Hankal died in 1903.
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge previously said the Washington County Commission would consider a resolution to name the health department for Hankal at its October meeting, which is set for Monday morning. County Commissioner Phyllis Corso said Thursday that the County-Owned Property Committee recommended naming the facility in honor of Hankal.
“We received letter from all over the place in support of this, and we supported it highly,” Corso said.
Although not a decision-making body, members of the City/County Liaison moved to submit a letter of support to Eldridge’s office.