New York’s First Black Female CPA Passes Away

Services for Bernadine Gines, the first black woman to earn the title of CPA in the state of New York, were held at 3 p.m. Feb. 15 at Manhattan’s Marble Collegiate Church.

Bernadine Gines

Bernadine Gines

The 88-year-old Gines, who died Jan. 23 after a short illness, was a native of Charlottesville, Va., and a graduate of Virginia State University and New York University, where she earned her master’s degree in business administration.

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,” says Michael Kirkland, the immediate past president of the NYSSCPA .

“I am truly better for having met her and learn of her story first hand,” says Kirkland, 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 MBA from NYU, I thought I would get a job right away,” said Gines. “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.”

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.”

“She was a trailblazer and a history maker,” says Rumbi BwerinfaPetrozzello, vice president of the NYSSCPA’s Brooklyn-Queens Chapter, “who has and will continue to be an inspiration for generations to come.”