Denton County Memorializes Forgotten Janitor - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

Denton County Memorializes Forgotten Janitor



    County leaders plan to add a plaque to the Denton Courthouse on the Square memorializing Zach Rawlings, a former slave and beloved janitor at the courthouse in the late 1800s. (Published Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017)

    An effort to add more memorials to Denton County's diverse history is starting off with a surprising addition: a janitor.

    The Denton County Office of History and Culture said funding is set aside to make a plaque memorial to Zach Rawlings that will be displayed in the Denton Courthouse on the Square.

    Rawlings was brought to Lewisville in 1860 as a slave and was freed after the Civil War. At that time county records say he was "elected" as janitor at the county courthouse and he bought land in present day Hickory Creek with another freed slave.

    Rawlings went on to raise a family and serve as the janitor for the county from 1886 until 1911 when he retired and died a short time later.

    County historian Peggy Riddle said her studies have found that Rawlings was highly respected in his role and beloved – rare in that discriminatory time in history.

    Rawlings came as a surprising choice for a memorial to some, though.

    Local NAACP leader Willie Hudspeth began pushing in the past year or so for memorials to diverse figures in history, a compromise from his original fight.

    In 1999, Hudspeth began campaigning against a controversial memorial that sits on the Square to Denton County's Confederate soldiers.

    As recently as the last couple of years Hudspeth led protests against the monument, but ultimately found that too many historic designations existed on the statue for it to be removed.

    So Hudspeth decided to start working toward additional memorials instead.

    "Let's put something else out here that is positive," he said Wednesday.

    While a forgotten janitor likely wasn't who many had in mind, Hudspeth actually pushed to have Rawlings as one of the first new memorials, saying he was exactly the type of figure they need to showcase.

    "Honest, hardworking, came from a negative situation and didn't let that stop him," Hudspeth listed.

    Hudspeth said the janitorial work was only what Rawlings did for a living, but the example he set while doing it and during a tough time in history is what he was ultimately beloved for.

    "He raised his family, he did what was right, he worked hard, and that's what I'm trying to tell the youth now. I don't care what race," said Hudspeth.

    The NAACP leader said statues on the Courthouse lawn for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a long-time Denton educator of color are also in the works, though funding for those projects is still being sought.

    For now, county leaders are seeking more information and images of Rawlings to properly pay homage to him.

    Riddle is searching for decedents of Rawlings and his children who may be able to provide a better picture of his life. It is believed such family may still live in the DFW area.

    Anyone with links to Zach Rawlings is asked to contact the office of history and culture at 940-349-2852.

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