SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Judge William A. McClain, a 1934 graduate of Wittenberg University, was honored March 31 by being inducted into the Hall of Excellence of The Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges (OFIC) during an Evening of Excellence celebration in downtown Columbus before nearly 300 CEO’s and presidents of Ohio’s top corporations and statewide community and civic leaders. Wittenberg President Baird Tipson introduced McClain.
“Judge McClain is a natural role model and his many prestigious awards and honors speak volumes for his dedication to his career and his countless contributions to those he has served,” Tipson said. “We are pleased he chose Wittenberg as a place to further develop his character and we congratulate him on his most honorable accomplishments while a student and since he left our campus.”
A longtime public servant in his more than 65-year legal career, McClain hasn’t allowed race-based obstacles to stand in the way of making his mark on society.
Just last year he was named one of the Great Living Cincinnatians for being one of the nation’s most respected attorneys. In April 2002, the University of Michigan conferred on him an honorary doctor of laws degree, and in 1997, McClain received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor recognizing outstanding ethnic Americans and their contributions to America. He shares that honor with four presidents, several congressman and Nobel Prize winners.
Wittenberg 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.
McClain has described his defining moment as winning the National Intercollegiate Oratorical Contest his senior year at Wittenberg in 1934, making him one of the best orators in the school’s history.
“As a young, 21-year-old black student, I realized that if I could win this contest on a national scale being the only black student in a white-dominated setting, I could do anything I wanted to do,” McClain said. “The struggle for a black man is to attain his selfhood, and that accomplishment at Wittenberg made me realize that my blackness was a badge of honor, not a badge of shame.”
The former Springfield resident is 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. He became Cincinnati’s first assistant city solicitor, making him the first black lawyer to serve as law director of a major city and he was also Hamilton County’s first black Common Pleas Court judge. He also served as the first black acting city manager for Cincinnati from 1968-1972.
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