Old Cahawba Site Director Linda Derry retires

Published 12:11 am Sunday, April 7, 2024

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Old Cahawba site director Linda Derry recently announced her retirement. Her last official day was March 27.

Derry worked nearly 40 years at Old Cahawba and at the Alabama Historical Commission, the state’s historic preservation office. In 1985, her first assignment was to develop an archaeological park at Old Cahawba.

“I was told I was hired for several reasons,” Derry said. “I was a historical archaeologist with a graduate degree from the College of William and Mary. I had experience excavating Alabama sites. I had worked for three other state preservation offices and was working as the lead field archaeologist for America’s premier outdoor history museum, Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. My goodness, I was excavating some of America’s most significant historical sites, but once I heard Cahawba’s story, I was sold on the idea of moving to Selma, Alabama to take this job. And my love for this special place and the people who have rallied around it has only grown over the years.”

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Concerned citizens had tried to “Save Old Cahawba” since 1908 when Anna Gayle Fry published her book, “Memories of Old Cahaba.” Derry eventually worked with attorneys, architects, exhibit planners, fundraisers and descendents to develop the park at Old Cahawba. 

“I was surprised at how many individuals and groups were willing and able to pitch in and help,” Derry said. “Maybe they just needed someone like me to encourage them – someone who was too stubborn to give up on the goal of “Saving Cahawba” when times got tough. Thanks to all these people, the Alabama Historical Commission and the people of Alabama now own over 600 acres of Alabama’s first capital city, and we’ve begun to interpret its many diverse stories to the public through exhibits, programs and events. Buried untold stories have been revealed and are being shared.

“A historic home has been returned to Cahawba as a visitor center, trails and picnic areas have been developed, cemetery restoration begun, and the architecturally significant St. Luke’s Church has returned to Cahawba. Restoration of that church and two significant African-American structures are underway. Most importantly, Old Cahawba has become a tourist destination and, therefore, an economic engine for Dallas County, Selma, and Orrville.”

Selma City Councilman thanked Derry for her service and dedication to Alabama’s history.

Selma Community Church Pastor Dr. Jerry Light said he enjoys being Derry’s neighbor

“As a pastor and teacher in Selma, I enjoy retelling the compelling history of Alabama’s Black Belt,” Light said. “My first years in Alabama, I didn’t know Linda. She was a neighbor who was never home. She was always at work. Now I understand why.

“Some people make history. Some people read history. A unique few in this world preserve history for those coming after them. That is our Linda Derry. Because of her work at Old Cahawba, generations will be blessed and will understand the uniqueness of this part of Alabama. God bless you.”

Derry plans to return on a part-time basis in July to undertake special projects, such as planning for the bicentennial celebration of General Lafayette’s return to America and Cahawba. The event at Cahawba will take place April 5, 2025.