As an educator, activist and author, Gwendolyn Hankerson served her community for decades. But on Feb. 13 she succumbed to a long illness and died at her Lauderdale Lakes home. She was 82.
"My mother was very involved in what was happening in her community, as well as what was happening in the world," said her daughter, Terri Hankerson, a Fort Lauderdale attorney.
Born in White Springs, Fla., Mrs. Hankerson came to Fort Lauderdale in 1935 at age 4, a member of a South Florida pioneer family. She graduated from Dillard High School in 1949 and later earned her Ph.d in psychology at out-of-state colleges. She started teaching in local schools in 1954, the same year she married Tommie Hankerson, her husband of nearly 60 years.
She taught at all levels in the Broward school system until the mid-'80s, when she left to teach in Miami-Dade County, retiring in 1990.
Mrs. Hankerson was the first female swim coach at Dillard, and the first principal at the high school's community school. She also served on numerous advisory boards for the city of Fort Lauderdale, and later for the city of Lauderdale Lakes, where she moved in 1974.
Mrs. Hankerson was the first black to run for office in Lauderdale Lakes, but was twice unsuccessful. Active in local Democratic politics, she campaigned for successful black candidates. She also fought for literacy, mentored students and helped organize community events. She helped start the Broward County branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
"She had a dynamic spirit," Terri Hankerson said. "She couldn't sit still,. She had to be up and doing."
Besides her role in the community, Mrs Hankerson empahsized the importance of school to her four children. "She instilled in us values you just don't get any more," her daughter said. "She told us if you have an education, no door will stay closed.'
In 2003 she wrote a book, "Across the Tracks," which chronicled the lives of blacks in Broward County during the days of segregation. She has been the recipient of several awards, including the Sun Sentinel's Publisher's Community Service Award in 2002 and the Rosa Parks Award in 2011.
Mrs. Hankerson is survived by her husband, daughter Terri; three other children, Charles Holiday of Miramar; Kenneth Hankerson of Lauderhill; and Allison Hankerson-Harris of Lauderdale Lakes; 11 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.
A viewing will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at Mrs. Hankerson's longtime church, Mt. Hermon AME Church, 401 NW 7th Terrace, Fort Laduerdale, with service Saturday at 11 a.m., also at Mt. Hermon. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Dillard High School Jazz Band, P.O. Box 5033, Deerfield Beach, Fla., 33442.
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