Thursday, February 25, 2010


Friday, February 12, 2010

Langston School’s founder an accomplished doctor, teacher


By Rex Barber
Press Staff Writer

A deadly cholera epidemic swept through this region in 1873.
Local doctors struggled to cure their patients. Most did not succeed.

It was reported the patients of Dr. Hezekiah Hankal, though, lived. Hankal’s reputation as a superb physician grew among his peers in Johnson City following the epidemic and his advice was commonly sought, according to Ray Stahl’s “Greater Johnson City: A Pictorial History.”

Hankal was also ordained as a minister. He conducted a successful ministry in the region through the establishment of churches in Jonesborough, Bristol and on land he purchased on Market Street in Johnson City, according to one volume of the “History of Washington County, Tennessee.”

Hankal’s service as a Johnson City alderman beginning in the late 1880s has been well documented.

Perhaps one of Hankal’s most well known accomplishments was the establishment of Langston Normal School, a school in Johnson City for black students.

According to Stahl, Hankal taught at Langston and was probably the first black man in the state certified to teach in the public school system.

Hankal was only one of many notable and influential black leaders in the early history of Johnson City. Mary Alexander noted the history and development of Johnson City’s black population from the middle 1800s to 1965 for her master’s degree thesis in history at East Tennessee State University.

Several pages in her thesis were devoted to Dr. Henry Johnson, another prominent physician in Johnson City. In fact, when Johnson died in 1955, there would not be another black physician in Johnson City until the Quillen College of Medicine was opened in 1978, Alexander wrote.

Johnson’s medical office was located at 111 1/2 Fountain Square in 1921, Alexander reported in her thesis. Johnson was also on the medical staff at Memorial Hospital in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Following his death, black patients had to rely on white doctors for care. That care was typically provided after hours because blacks and whites could not be in the same waiting room at the same time in this period.

According to Alexander, many black businesses existed in Johnson City in the early part of the 20th century. She quoted the 1909 edition of the Langston Voice, a local publication, that included an ad for Edith J. Weems’ dress-making business at 404 E. Fairview Ave. and J.W. Owens’ brick masonry business at 214 Welborn St. Another black business in that issue of the Langston Voice as well as the 1915 city directory included residential contractor George W. Rhea, residing in the Carnegie area.

Alexander said some of the most vital businesses for Johnson City’s black community in the early days of the city were mortuaries and cemeteries.

The most notable is probably West Lawn Cemetery, located on a plot of land near Forrest Drive and Broadway Avenue. Both Hankal and Johnson are buried there, along with many other black families.

In the late 1800s, Harrison Whiterston donated land in the southern end of the city for blacks to have a cemetery. Some years later, a wealthy city commissioner and doctor liked the location of the cemetery and wanted the land for his own. He had the bodies exhumed and moved to what is now West Lawn.

The graves of Hankal and Johnson make the old cemetery a historical site.