Honoring Black History Month: John Wesley Cromwell, Jr.

By Michelle Antico, Marketing Coordinator

February marks an important time to recognize Black History and the notable figures that have significantly impacted American history for the better. Throughout the next several weeks, we will acknowledge the inspiring stories of African American individuals that have contributed to the accounting and business field.

To start this blog series on a high note, we celebrate John Wesley Cromwell, Jr., the first African American ever to become a CPA. During his college years at Dartmouth, he quickly developed as an excellent student, specializing in mathematics and astronomy, won the Thayer Prize in Mathematics, and graduated as the best student in science in his class. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1906. Cromwell continued his education at Dartmouth following his undergrad and got his master’s degree.

When Cromwell graduated from Dartmouth, there were still no African American CPAs. During that time, to be a CPA, you had to have CPA experience; however, African Americans were not allowed to work in financial affairs, which prevented them from gaining CPA experience. So Cromwell Jr. returned to Washington D.C. to become a mathematics teacher at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, one of the country’s most prestigious Black high schools at the time. About 15 years later, New Hampshire passed legislation enabling candidates to obtain their CPA license without an experience requirement. So Cromwell Jr. took his chances and traveled to New Hampshire to take the exam. After that, he was officially a CPA.

Nonetheless, after obtaining his CPA license, Cromwell Jr. continued to teach high school while practicing accountancy in the District of Columbia. He worked mainly within the African American community serving lawyers, churches, restaurants, and funeral homes. By the early 1960s, Cromwell Jr. was still the only Black CPA in the District of Columbia, 40 years after he earned his license.

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