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A White-Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants Since 1921.

By Theresa A. Hammond 146 pages; hardcover; $39.95 The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2002

Theresa A. Hammond, PhD, the author of this history, is an associate professor of accounting and Ernst & Young Research Fellow in Diversity Studies at the Wallace E. Carroll School of Management at Boston College. She has been at the forefront of initiatives for diversification within the CPA profession, and she writes often about the status of African American accountants. Her articles have appeared in a number of professional journals (among them a September 1999 Journal of Accountancy story, "Still Seeking the Ideal," which she co-wrote). In addition Hammond served on the AICPA minority initiatives committee from 1995 to 1998.

A White-Collar Profession relates the efforts of African Americans to become CPAs when doing so was very difficult for nonwhites; Hammond interviewed 32 of the first 100 to succeed. Their stories have a sense of immediacy that makes this book both engrossing and inspiring. This is not an "issue" book, however; it is a straightforward telling of the experiences of these pioneers that reminds us that social progress is a work in process. More has to be done to ensure that all citizens who want to become CPAs have the opportunity.

The first laws creating CPAs were passed in 1896 in New York: it took until 1921--25 years--for the first African American to become licensed. He was John W. Cromwell Jr. of Washington, D.C., a mathematics teacher who ultimately obtained a CPA license in New Hampshire. Although he had graduated as a Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth and was a teacher, he could not get a job with a CPA firm in the D.C. area. The nearby states of Virginia and Maryland required work experience with a CPA firm to obtain a license, but New Hampshire's newly enacted law did not, which permitted him to sit for the examination.

Also told is the story of Theodora E. Rutherford, a 1923 summa cum laude graduate of Howard University at age 19, who went on to become the first African American to obtain a master's degree in accounting from Columbia University. Despite her education, she was unable to obtain a job with an accounting firm in New York. Although she never worked for a CPA firm, she finally was able to become certified when West Virginia (where she taught) changed its law to permit graduate education to substitute for the experience requirement. In 1960 she became the 58th African American CPA; it had taken her almost 40 years to jump the twin hurdles of being black and a woman in a profession that was overwhelmingly white and male.

The first African American female CPA was Mary T. Washington of Chicago. In 1943, after working for the Fuller Brush Co., she started her own CPA firm with Fuller as a client. The firm is still in existence today as Washington, Pittman and McKeever. In 1960 Lester McKeever, managing partner of the firm, became the 61st African American CPA. He has had a long history of public service, including a stint as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and was named 1991 Chicagoan of the Year.

Since our profession is about numbers, it's of statistical interest to note that of the first 14 African American CPAs, half were from Chicago. Of the first 100, 26 came from Illinois and 15 from New York. In 1965 all new licensees were from Illinois and New York. From Cromwell's entry into the profession in 1921 until 1959, only another 56 African American CPAs entered the profession. With the advent of the 1960s' Great Society programs and civil rights laws, another 43 were licensed in a six-year-period.

The 100th, certified in 1965, was Bert N. Mitchell of New York--founder, chairman and CEO of Mitchell & Titus. Mitchell has served as president of the New York state society of CPAs and chairman of the New York state board of accountancy and has held other distinguished positions in the profession. (Now compare that with the fact that I, too, received my license in 1965 and my New York State CPA number is upwards of 20,000.) Today, despite recent efforts to recruit good candidates and widely diversified business, fewer than 1% of all CPAs in the United States are African Americans.

A White-Collar Profession tells other interesting stories of pioneers and the black colleges and universities they attended. Many schools did not offer accounting courses or could not obtain accreditation. Even after graduation otherwise qualified candidates had to deal with job market discrimination. Because of such difficulties, they drifted away from the accounting profession into government and academic jobs.

Hammond's book is must reading for history buffs in the profession as well as for those who may need a little extra incentive to achieve their own goals. Every ethnic group's story about overcoming adversity is important, but the true goal of diversity is that all CPAs should be considered first and foremost CPAs--trained professionals who offer conscientious guidance to American business.

STANLEY PERSON, CPA, of Person and Co., believes in reading for education and relaxation. His e-mail address is panda cpa@aol.com.
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Author:Person, Stanley
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2003
Words:865
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