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Eva Roberta Coles-Boone (4639 hits)

Eva Roberta Coles was bom in Charlottesville, Virginia on January 8th, 1880. She was one of the young women who were fortunate enough to attend Hartshorn Memorial College in Richmond, which had been founded in 1883 as the world's first college for African-American females. (Spelman College in Atlanta did not become a college until 1924, and Bennett College in North Carolina was co-educational until 1926). In 1892 Hartshorn gave the first Bachelor's Degrees ever conferred at a Black female college: the recipients of the Bachelor of Science Degrees were: Mary Moore Booze (of Buchanan, Virginia); Harriet Amanda Miller (Charlottesville); and Dixie Erma Williams (Milan, Tennessee). The first classes were held in the basement of Ebenezer Baptist Church, then the college moved to its campus at the northwest comer of Leigh & Lombardy Streets (site of the present day Maggie Walker Governor's School). There it took both day and boarding students and offered its young ladies a solid academic curriculum based on that of Wellesley College, and a close-knit family atmosphere that stressed Christian life and values, and community service.

On February 11,1899, Eva was among the Hartshorn students who walked the one block north to the present site of Virginia Union University, which had been newly founded as a men's institution and was having its groundbreaking ceremony. It was there that she may have met Clinton Caldwell Boone, who was studying for the Baptist ministry, and developed a friendship that would blossom into love.

Eva graduated in May of 1899, and returned to teach in her home town. Clinton finished at Virginia Union the following year. On January 16th, 1901, Eva and Clinton were married and had decided to dedicate themselves to mission work among the peoples of Africa. They were sponsored by the American Baptist Missionary Union and the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention. In May of that year they arrived at Palaballa in what was then the Congo Free State (now the Republic of the Congo). There Eva and Clinton labored heroically and unselfishly, and endured heart-rending hardships and sorrow, including the loss of their baby. Eva's sweet and caring nature and quiet courage won her the love and respect of the villagers, in a way that no one else was able to do. They smiled when the greeted her and knew her affectionately as "Mama Bunu". She ran the kindergarten for the village children; occasionally gave medical treatment, and organized a sewing circle for the women. In the face of initial resistance by the women themselves, and by the local tradition, which did not properly regard sewing as an appropriate occupation for women, she quietly persevered and, much to the amazement of all, had enlisted a membership of over forty.

When she fell gravely ill from the bite of a worm or snake and grew steadily weaker from the poison she remained a tower of strength and comfort to both the villagers and her grieving husband. Even with her last words she tried to console him in his sorrow. She died on December 8, 1902 with the village women holding a vigil around their house and her husband clasping her hand.
Hartshorn Hall

News of her passing plunged Hartshorn Memorial College and Virginia Union University into mourning, tempered with pride at her exemplary and dedicated life. The Reverend Clinton Caldwell Boone continued his ministry to Africa for many more years, and authored books about his experiences. Congo as I Saw It, published in 1927, was dedicated to Eva. In 1932, Hartshorn Memorial College merged with Virginia Union University, to produce many more Evas and Clintons. Eva Roberta Coles-Boone may be placed as a role-model for African-American women and men alike, and for others, fully deserving to be in the company of Sojourner Truth, Maggie Lena Walker and Ella Jo Baker. And it is only fitting that her life be celebrated with pride and honor, on this the 100th year of her Homecoming.
Posted By: Reginald Culpepper
Tuesday, November 29th 2005 at 6:02PM
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