A native of Virginia, Bernadine Coles Gines earned a bachelors degree from Virginia State College and an MBA from New York University in 1947. In 1954, she became the first black woman to be certified as a CPA in the State of New York. She and her sister, Ruth Coles Harris, were among the very first black CPAs in the USA.
Bernadine Coles Gines’ late husband was Richard Edward Gines, born in Kansas City, but who lived in New York City after World War II. Bernadine Coles was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, into a family with a famous Virginia name and an interesting American genealogy. She and her sister were daughters of Bernard and Ruth Coles. Their paternal grandparents were Thornton and Annie Gamble Coles, both born in about 1867 in the Charlottesville (then Albemarle County) area. Thornton Coles was the son of John Coles, born a slave in about 1845. John and his mother Agnes (born about 1815) served in the household of John S. Coles in St. Anne’s Parish, Albemarle County, Virginia. John S. Coles was the grandson of Col. John Coles of Virginia and the great-nephew of Col. Isaac Coles. He was the nephew of Edward Coles. The Coles brothers, John and Isaac, were the sons of John Coles, a wealthy and well-connected tobacco planter. They were also that genealogical oddity, “double first cousins, once removed” to Dolley Madison.
John S. Coles, who owned Bernadine’s great-grandfather and great-great- grandmother, was a major slaveowner in Albemarle County. Ironically, Isaac Coles had voted to abolish slavery when he served in Congress. Likewise, Edward Coles was a very early proponent of abolition. He freed all of his slaves upon moving to Illinois, became that state’s second governor, and helped establish the abolitionist roots of the Republican Party. Coles County, Illinois, is named for Edward Coles.
The history of the Coles name in Virginia since the early nineteenth century is the complex, sometimes tragic, sometimes poignant, ocassionally absurd, history of the relationship between blacks and whites in America.
But today, blacks and whites share the distinction of the Coles name in Virginia and Illinois and around the country. Doctors, professors, writers, social activists, business people, artists, and accountants [our personal favorite] have written the modern history of the Coles family name, now without regard to race or “previous condition of servitude.”
May 6, 2006 Saturday at 3:16 am