SPRINGFIELD, Ohio - Lawyer and longtime public servant William A. McClain was named one of the Great Living Cincinnatians on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
A 1934 graduate of Wittenberg University, McClain went on to break numerous racial barriers in his more than 50-year career to become one of the nation's most respected attorneys.
In 1942, just five years after his graduation from the University of Michigan Law School, McClain became Cincinnati's first black assistant city solicitor, making him the first black lawyer to serve as law director of a major city. Eight years later, the former Springfield resident became the first black member of the Cincinnati Bar Association, and in 1972 he became the first black member of the downtown law firm Keating, Muething & Klekamp. He was also Hamilton County's first black Common Pleas Court judge, the first black lawyer elected for membership in the Cincinnati Lawyers Club and the first black acting city manager from 1968-1972.
The oldest living black lawyer in Hamilton County and the oldest living black alumnus of the University of Michigan Law School, McClain was also the only black student at Wittenberg from 1930-1934 and the only black student in his law school class.
Despite race-based obstacles, McClain earned the respect of classmates and faculty, and he continues to be admired around the country for his personal and professional achievements. In 1997, he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which recognizes the achievements of outstanding ethnic Americans and their contributions to America. Four presidents, several congressman and Nobel Prize winners join McClain in receiving this prestigious award sanctioned by the United States Congress.
"When I started out, doors were closed," he told the Cincinnati Post last year. "Now, at least, they're ajar. But the lesson I learned is that race is only a circumstance, not a condition. Through talent and hard work and faith, you can accomplish anything. You set your own ceiling in life," he added.
In April 2002, the University of Michigan conferred on him an honorary doctor of laws degree. Wittenberg also awarded McClain an honorary doctor of humane letters in 1972, and he received the university's Alumni Citation for his exceptional professional accomplishments in 1966. In 1996, he returned to Wittenberg to present the keynote address at the university's Opening Convocation.
McClain, who also taught at the University of Cincinnati Law School, majored in political science while at Wittenberg and was one of the best orators in the school's history, winning the National Intercollegiate Oratorical Contest his senior year.
Now retired, McClain, 89, can still be found working in the downtown law firm of Manley Burke at least five days a week and occasionally on the weekends.
The Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, which has honored 96 Cincinnati residents in the award program's 36-year history, confered the award at its annual dinner at the downtown Hyatt Regency.
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