Slideshow Black CPAs Who Paved the Way

  • May 20 2015, 2:12pm EDT
11 Images Total

Black Americans Who Paved the Way

There once was a time when Black American men and women had to break through racial barriers to pursue careers as certified public accountants. Theresa Hammond, a professor of accounting at the College of Business at San Francisco State University, documented the stories of those paved the way for Black Americans to become a CPA in her book, "A White-Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants since 1921."At the time Hammond published the book, in 2002, it was reported that less than 1 percent of CPAs were black. What you'll find in 'A White-Collar Profession' are interviews with approximately 100 groundbreaking black CPAs who shared the challenges they had to face to work in the profession. Here are 11 of those trailblazing CPAs who paved the way for black CPAs.

First up - Richard Austin - Licensed in 1941

Richard Austin graduated from his large Detroit high school at the top of his class. While a teenager, he had developed a bookkeeping practice with primarily black and Jewish clients. One of his professors helped him meet the experience requirement, and he went on to have a successful CPA firm in the city. He was elected Wayne County Auditor in 1966, narrowly lost a race that would have made him Detroit’s first black mayor in 1969, and was elected as Michigan’s Secretary of State in 1971. Re-elected four times, he served in the role for over two decades.

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Jesse Blayton - Licensed in 1928

Professor Jesse B. Blayton was known as the “Dean of Negro Accountants” because he encouraged and trained numerous African-American CPAs. He taught at Morehouse College and Atlanta University for decades, and consulted with cabinet members in President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration regarding the impact of New Deal programs on the black community. In the 1960s, he and his Atlanta-based firm provided services to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

John Cromwell - Licensed in 1921

Cromwell came from a prominent family in Washington, D.C. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth College in 1906. He taught math at a black high school in D.C., and headed to New Hampshire to take the CPA examination in 1921. At that time, African Americans could not find employment with CPA firms, and New Hampshire was attractive because it did not yet have an experience requirement. Cromwell continued to teach and was later controller at Howard University. On evenings and weekends, he worked as a CPA for black-owned businesses in the D.C. area.

William D. Collins - Licensed in 1959

World War II veteran William D. Collins moved to California after the war in pursuit of better opportunities. He graduated from the University of Southern California’s accounting program near the top of his class in 1954. On campus, he interviewed with many major firms, all of whom declined to hire him after discovering his race. Like many other pioneering black CPAs, he found work with a Jewish CPA firm in order to meet the experience requirement. He then opened his own firm, and retired recently at the age of 91.

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Bernadine Coles Gines - Licensed in 1954

Bernadine Coles Gines (pictured on the right) earned an MBA from New York University in 1947 and became the first African-American female CPA in New York in 1954. Barred due to her race from attending the University of Virginia, Gines had moved to New York in the hope of finding better opportunities. Nonetheless, it was difficult to find a firm to hire her. The one black-owned firm in New York did not employ women. After years of searching, she finally found employment with a small Jewish-owned firm. She went on to work for the City of New York until she retired. Her sister, Ruth Coles Harris, became the first African-American female CPA in Virginia in 1963.

Dr. Larzette Hale and Milton Wilson - Both Licensed in 1951

Dr. Larzette Hale became the first African-American female to earn a Ph.D. in accounting in 1955 (University of Wisconsin). Dr. Milton Wilson earned his Ph.D. in 1951 (Indiana University), and, as Dean, led Texas Southern University and Howard University to become the first two historically black colleges to earn AACSB accreditation.

Dr. Ruth Coles Harris - Licensed in 1963

Dr. Ruth Coles Harris (right) became the first African-American female CPA in Virginia in 1963, following in her sister Bernadine Coles Gines's footsteps. For nearly five decades, she was a professor and department chair at Virginia Union University.

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Bert N. Mitchell - Licensed in 1965

Bert N. Mitchell became the 100th African-American CPA in 1965. He founded the country's largest black-owned CPA firm, Mitchell & Titus LLP, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. In 1969, the Journal of Accountancy published his study of African-American CPAs, reporting that out of 100,000 CPAs in the United States, fewer than 150 were African-American. His firm was a leader in expanding opportunity to African Americans in the profession. After his retirement, Mitchell & Titus became a member of EY Global Limited.

Tab Tillman - Licensed in 1965

Talmadge “Tab” Tillman was the first African-American graduate of the MBA program at Syracuse University. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 1967, and taught at Cal State Long Beach.

Mary Washington - Licensed in 1943

Mary T. Washington was the founder of Washington, Pittman, and McKeever LLC, one of the largest black-owned CPA firms in the country. She provided the experience needed to earn a CPA to many African Americans who could not find employment elsewhere. Many aspiring CPAs moved to Chicago to work for her.