* Forty years ago, when the National Association of Black Accountants formed, there were relatively few African-American CPAs, particularly within white-owned public accounting firms.
* Starting with a meeting in December 1969 at the New York home of CPA Frank Ross, the group that would soon be incorporated as NABA faced an uphill climb. Although it was nearly universally acknowledged that black Americans should have greater opportunities to enter the CPA profession, agreement on the best strategy to accomplish that goal was elusive. Even among black accountants, there was not a clear consensus in favor of a national organization such as NABA.
* An early goal was better preparation of accounting students; through such programs as CPA Bound and the Center for Advancement of Minority Accountants, NABA helped open the pipeline for young professionals. Through its Division of Firms, it also has sought to provide networking opportunities for black-owned firms.
* Today, in conjunction with other groups such as the AICPA's Minorities Initiatives Committee, NABA continues to cultivate young CPAs as well as to work on related issues, such as retention of African Americans and other minorities within the profession.
From seeds sown 40 years ago this month in a gathering of accountants in the living room of CPA Frank Ross, the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) has grown to more than 50 professional and 150 student chapters nationwide. To succeed, it has had to reach consensus on its goals and identity internally and within the larger accounting profession.
THE INITIAL YEARS
One precursor to that initial meeting of what would become NABA was the effort by one of the nation's relatively few practicing black CPAs, Bert N. Mitchell, to quantify and call attention to the dearth of African-American accountants and CPAs, particularly within white-owned firms. He revealed his findings in a 1969 Journal of Accountancy article ("The Black Minority in the CPA Profession," Oct. 69, page 41). Mitchell surveyed 104 firms and the 136 African-American CPAs he was able to identify. Representatives at the 52 firms that replied said that out of the 27,481 professionals those firms employed, only 404 were from minority groups, including 108 blacks. Black representation at the partner level in these firms was "virtually nonexistent."
Mitchell said many firms recognized the need for more inclusive hiring and were taking remedial steps, but a greater commitment was needed to make training and employment opportunities available to minorities. He noted favorably steps by the AICPA's new biracial Committee on Recruitment from Minority Groups, later renamed the Minority Initiatives Committee (see sidebar, "Minority Initiatives Committee Celebrates Four Decades"). Mitchell advocated a greater role in the profession for black CPAs, but he did not specifically suggest a new national association. In fact, he said that black respondents rejected the idea of a "separate national professional association of black CPAs" by a margin of 57 to 25.
FORMULATORS OF THE VISION
Mindful of that desire by African-American CPAs to open the profession to minorities while working with and within established professional organizations, about 16 New York-area accountants met on a Sunday in early December 1969 at Ross' home in the Bronx. The precipitating event was the filing of a civil rights lawsuit by the city of New York against the six of what were then the Big Eight accounting firms that had headquarters there, Ross recounts in his 2006 memoir Quiet Guys Can Do Great Things, Too. The accountants' purpose at that first meeting, however, was open-ended: "to discuss the unique challenges and limited opportunities they faced in the accounting profession." The group soon coalesced into nine founding members. …