Our Shared History with Cheryl Renée Gooch

In recognition of Black History Month, FCOED sat down with Dr. Cheryl Renée Gooch, Executive Director of the African American Resources Cultural and Heritage Society (AARCH Society) to learn more about her and future plans for the AARCH Society.

Cheryl has an extensive background in academia, most recently serving as the Vice President for Academic Affairs at SUNY Schenectady in New York. She has authored scholarly articles and two books: Hinsonville’s Heroes, Black Civil War Soldiers of Chester County, Pennsylvania and On Africa’s Lands: The Forgotten Stories of Two Lincoln-Educated Missionaries in Liberia.

Two years ago, Cheryl was driving around the state of Maryland visiting various historical sites, and she happened to drive through Downtown Frederick. She fell in love with the beautifully historic spaces and vowed to return. Later when she saw a job advertisement for Executive Director of the AARCH Society, she knew it was meant to be.  

Now six months on the job, Cheryl’s goal is to grow AARCH Society to be a key player in the cultural tourism market. The AARCH Society, incorporated in 2009, consists of members who are interested in and committed to the documentation and preservation of our shared history in Frederick County. Currently Cheryl is the only paid staff member at AARCH Society, but not for long. The goal is to add three new positions including an archivist/curator, an office administrator and grant manager/budget analyst.

In 2021, a strategic plan was created to guide the AARCH Society through to 2026. Long term plans include the new African American Heritage Center, an expansion of the Cultural Heritage Tour and new partnerships with businesses, nonprofits, and the faith community. Additionally, AARCH Society will launch an online store this February.

Renovation is currently underway at 125 W All Saints St. Frederick for the 3,200 SF African American Heritage Center. Construction is expected to be complete Q3 2024, after which a soft opening will be held and some of the exhibits will be available for viewing. The grand opening is expected midyear 2025.

The African American Heritage Center will serve as a primary resource for knowledge, information, and research about African Americans in Frederick County. “Lifelong learning is our salvation,” says Cheryl “and the Center will host a resource and research space, a museum with a core permanent exhibit, and temporary exhibits and educational and multidisciplinary programs.“

The goal of the resource and research space is to provide equitable access that informs and inspires. The space will have finding aids allowing people to view a summary of the collection and printed materials. It will also help provide resource connections for those looking to research their genealogy. As Cheryl says, “It can be difficult to trace family lineage for an African American, especially when past generations were enslaved. There were no birth certificates, and death certificates weren’t issued until after 1910. There are other resources such as census data that we can offer to help piece together the missing information.” 

The museum’s permanent exhibit theme will be “Our Journey, Our Stories,” which will provide access to American history through the lens of African Americans in Frederick County. Cheryl explains, “The African American experience in Frederick County intersects with Frederick County History and U.S. History. It’s our shared history as Marylanders and Americans. The exhibit will reflect that.”

In addition, there are plans in the next two years to expand the Cultural Heritage Tours, formerly known as the walking tours. The Tours will gradually include more sites and expand the scope of interpretation. This will include a research-based history of the sites and the people associated with those sites. The goal is to eventually include more sites in the County and City such as the Freedman Schools that were established following the Civil War for once enslaved people and the Quinn Chapel AME Church which dates from the late 1700s.

It is clear talking to Cheryl that there is a lot to look forward to in the future for the AARCH Society.  When asked about her experience working for AARCH so far she says, “I aim for excited exhaustion. I am living my calling, uncovering and recovering history that has been buried or obscured.”

Rapid Fire Questions

What are your favorite places in Frederick County to eat?

My favorite is Black Hog. I love the brisket. I also love Hooch and Banter, Firestone’s Culinary Tavern and Café Nola.

What do you like to do for fun?

I love that Frederick is a walking community. I enjoy walking along Carroll Creek, and I spend more time than I should in local shops looking for hats, gloves and unique jewelry.

What is your favorite book?

The Good Lord Bird about abolitionist John Brown by James McBride

Speaking of John Brown, who are your favorite historical figures?

John Brown, Frederick Douglass and journalist and civil rights advocate Ida B. Wells. I consider Zora Neale Hurston my literary ancestor. She was a cultural anthropologist and her research and writing style inspired my own.

What is your favorite quote?

The jazz drummer Art Blakey once said, “Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life.”               

To learn more about the AARCH Society visit aarchsociety.org