In 1921, John Cromwell, Jr. became the first African-American CPA. He came from one of the more prominent African-American families in the country. His father was an attorney and the chief examiner for the U.S. Post Office. His older sister, was the first African-American alumna of Smith College, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in English from Yale. John Cromwell graduated from Dartmouth in 1906 as the best student in science.
Fifteen year passed, following Cromwell's graduation, before he became a CPA. He was not allowed to sit for the CPA exam in Washington, D.C., Virgina or Maryland. Moreover, since all places had experience requirements, the biggest barrier to African-American CPAs was a Catch-22.
After becoming a CPA, Cromwell taught high school accounting in the District of Columbia. He worked exclusively within the black community. In 1930, he became comptroller of Howard University. In the early 1960s, 40 years after he earned his certificate, John Cromwell was still the only African-American CPA in our nation's capitol.
The discrimination that John Cromwell faced paralleled the challenges that existed for other CPAs of color. For most of the twentieth century, CPA firms would not hire minority CPAs, claiming that their clients would not tolerate a person of color being involved in their financial affairs.
This may be changing, albeit slowly. In 1969, the National Association of Black Accountants, www.nabainc.org was formed. At the time, there were only 169 African-American accountants in the entire country. Today, there are more than 5000 black CPAs, which is still a low percentage as compared to other professions. African-Americans comprise less than 1 percent of CPAs in the U.S., as compared to 2.7 percent for lawyers, and 4.2% for medical doctors.
The American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants, AICPA, has recognized the lack of parity in CPA diversity, and is taking steps to close the gaps. The AICPA has undertaken a number of initiatives that raise awareness about the CPA profession in minority communities, and increase the number and visibility of role models.
The Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, www.alpfa.org, was founded in 1972 and now has 26 chapters around the country. Surprisingly, Asian-American CPA associations have been founded only recently...the Chinese American Society of CPAs, www.cascpa.org, and the National Asian American Society of Accountants, www.naasa.org.
To the extent that you are a financial advisor who is networking with CPAs, it would make sense to recognize the diversity that is growing within the CPA profession. Opportunities may exist within your own community to further closer working relationships...creating win-win situations for all.