New York’s First Black Female CPA Dies

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Iralma Pozo, president of the NYSSCPA's Manhattan Bronx Chapter and J. Michael Kirkland, the NYSSCPA's immediate past president, present Gines with a lifetime achievement award in September. Photos credit NYSSCPA

Services for Bernadine Gines, the first Black woman to earn the title of Certified Public Accountant in the state of New York, will be held at 3 p.m. this Sunday, Feb. 15 at Manhattan’s Marble Collegiate Church.

The 88-year-old Gines, who died Jan. 23 after a short illness, was a native of Charlottesville, Virginia and a graduate of Virginia State University and New York University where she earned her Master of Business Administration degree.

The New York State Society of CPAs honored her Sept. 18 on the 60th anniversary of her earning the CPA. “It was a joy to have had the opportunity to meet and chat with Bernadine Coles Gines, CPA.,” said J. Michael Kirkland, the immediate past president of the NYSSCPA.

“I am truly better for having met her and learn of her story first hand,” he said of the September ceremony where Gines was presented with an official membership parchment and association pin. “We should celebrate her life and accomplishments by carrying her story with us and passing it on as an inspiration of what can be accomplished no matter the impediments.”

Gines’ graduation came right about the time that New York became the first state to require a four-year college education to sit for the CPA exam.  And though she exceeded the requirement, Gines initially had a difficult time finding a position with a CPA firm,” according to the news accounts from the NYSSCPA newspaper The Trusted Professional and the book "A White-Collar Profession: African-American CPAs since 1921" by Theresa Hammond.

Although Gines found the discrimination against her race and gender “very sad,” she was determined to become a CPA.

“I had an M.B.A. from NYU, I thought I would get a job right away,” Gines said. “I was naïve. I sent letter after letter from the YWCA in Harlem, where I lived, but not one person replied,” she said. “When I got married and moved to Queens, I got a few more responses with that address.”

While working as a bookkeeper at the New York Age, an African American newspaper, Gines said she learned about Lucas & Tucker, an African American-owned CPA firm in Manhattan. Her hope deflated when she learned they didn’t hire women.

Feeling as if she had not one but two strikes against her, Gines, who had graduated first in her class at Virginia University, was undeterred. After two years of rejections, a CPA firm with a predominantly Jewish clientele hired Gines, she said she was impressed to be met with such “courtesy and respect.”

“I think I took them by surprise,” she said of the two partners at the first firm to answer her letter of application and after “some hesitation" hire her in 1949 to join their small business in the Flatiron Building.

One of the firm’s partners felt the need to send a letter to all of his clients to notify them of their new hire. The one client with objections was quickly dropped. The firm’s other partner conducted business as usual, taking Gines on client visits as he would any employee.

“If their clients had any problems with me being there,” Gines said, “they never showed it.”

She went on to have a long career with the City of New York Office of the Comptroller. In her retirement Gines practiced yoga, traveled and volunteered for the AARP as a tax counselor during tax filing season.

“She was a trailblazer and a history maker," said Rumbi Bwerinofa-Petrozzello, vice president of the NYSSCPA's Brooklyn-Queens Chapter,"who has and will continue to be an inspiration for generations to come."The NYSSCPA, with more than 28,000 members in 15 chapters, is one of the U.S.'s largest state accounting organizations and represents the issues, professional development and public services efforts of certified public accountants who practice in New York state. For more information, visit www.nysscpa.org or contact Alonza Robertson, arobertson@nysscpa.org or call 212-719-8405. 

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