African-American Accountants

Black History Month Series

In honor of black history month, I am combining my love of numbers with my love of history to bring you biographies of African-American CPAs. As pioneers in their field, it wasn’t all about numbers. These men and women helped to bring more opportunities to African American communities and more value to the education African-Americans had access to.

First up on our list of biographies is John Cromwell.

Early Life

John Cromwell Jr. was born in Washington DC in 1883. His family was significantly established in the DC area. John Cromwell Sr. practiced as an attorney and teacher, and he held the title of chief examiner for the United States Postal Service. Also, his sister graduated from Yale University with a Ph.D. John Cromwell Jr continued the family tradition of higher education,  studying at Dartmouth University. “He graduated from Dartmouth as the best student in science in the class of 1906.” (

He continued his education at Dartmouth and went on to earn an M.A. degree. While at Dartmouth Cromwell earned the Thayer prize in Mathematics, an exam based award designed to challenge students.

Even though, he graduated top of his class in the science department, Cromwell faced difficulties. After graduating, he was not able to obtain an accountants degree.

This was due to a requirement many early African-American accountants struggled with. To qualify for the CPA exam, you first had to work for one. However, no one would hire Cromwell, keeping him from his experience and certification. Many accounting firms believed their clients wouldn’t approve of “a person of color being involved in their financial affairs.”

Professional Career:

New Hampshire lifted the experience requirement in 1921. That same year Cromwell traveled there and obtained his CPA. He went back to Washington DC and continued to teach as he began working as an accountant.

About a decade later, he switched gears slightly. Howard University hired Cromwell Jr. as the comptroller, basically the head of financials.

With all of Cromwell’s accomplishments and the hard work of many other African-American activists, Cromwell as still the only black CPA in Washington DC well into the 1960s.

This and many other factors led to the foundation of the National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. Their website explains that they work to enhance “opportunities for minorities in the accounting, finance, and business related professions.”

This association and many other individuals and groups like it have set out to improve the level of involvement and education African-Americans receive to this day.

African American Accountants today

Please note: this blog is simply for informational purposes. No part of it is should be taken as official legal or financial advice.

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