Black CPA Centennial celebrates first Black CPA

February 18, 2021

By Anita Dennis, Journal of Accountancy

John Wesley Cromwell Jr. (1883–1971) was a man of many talents and interests. An intellectual with a passion for knowledge and a drive for opportunity, he was the nation’s first Black CPA. Cromwell earned that distinction in 1921, an achievement that is the starting point for this year’s Black CPA Centennial celebration.

Cromwell was well suited for his historic role. Like many pioneering CPAs of color, Cromwell overcame numerous obstacles to reach his goal, paving the way for generations of future Black accountants.

“African-Americans struggled against incredible barriers in order to become CPAs and were virtually invisible,” said Theresa A. Hammond, CPA, Ph.D., accounting professor at San Francisco State University’s Lam Family College of Business.

The first CPA law was passed in New York 1896. It would be another 25 years before a Black person joined the profession. The primary blockers that made licensure essentially impossible for many aspiring Black CPAs included education, experience, and exclusion.

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