Celia Marie Abney Cleveland
1921 - 2003
Celia Cleveland was a pianist and the primary Bible instructor associated with the work of her husband, international noted Seventh-day Adventist evangelist E. E. Cleveland. Together, they traveled around the world and led more than 4,000 persons to join the church.
Celia was born on July 14, 1921, the only daughter of Benjamin W., Sr. and Celia Hart Abney. She traveled extensively as a child, her father being a preacher, evangelist, and missionary. At age eleven she started assisting in her father's evangelistic meetings as a pianist. Her schooling started in Missouri and then continued in South Africa, where her parents were the first black missionaries for eight years. She attended Oakwood College Academy and then Oakwood College, now University, from 1941 to 1943.
Celia married Cleveland on May 29, 1943, in Meridian, Mississippi. Throughout their sixty years of marriage she played an important role not only as a pianist and Bible instructor in his campaigns but also as his "memory bank." She possessed a phenomenal memory and could easily recall names, dates, events and other critical information. This gift, coupled with her assiduous study of the Bible from her earliest years, enabled her to render extraordinary service as a Bible instructor.
She assisted at the piano in over sixty of her husband's campaigns in major cities of the world. She also served as secretary for the National Service Organization, which supplied literature to those in the military. Her memory again made her service invaluable in this role since she memorized many of the servicemen's names and the units in which they served.
Her husband became associate secretary of the Ministerial Association at the church's headquarters in the Washington, D.C., area in 1953, the first black man to serve at that level in church leadership. During the next 23 years, she was the gracious host and mother away from home for students in the church's seminary, which was located in Washington, D.C., at that time.
At the end of their service in Washington, they moved to Huntsville, Alabama, in 1976, where he served as director of the department of church missions and was an adjunct instructor in religion at Oakwood College. She was residing there at the time of her death on May 29, 2003, at age 81, following several years of an illness that made it impossible for her to stand or walk without a walker or crutches.
Sources: "A Farewell to Celia Cleveland," Southern Tidings, August 2003; Mark Kellner, "E. E. Cleveland, renowned Evangelist, Dies at 88," Adventist Review (www.adventistreview.org); Megan Brauner, "Adventist Evangelist and Civil Rights Advocate E. E.Cleveland Dies," Adventist News Network (http:news.adventist.org)