Celebrating Wittenberg’s Black Leaders: William A. McClain
Inspiring others and making a difference is what William Andrew McClain believed in. He paved the way for future students of color by becoming the first African-American person to graduate from Wittenberg in 1934. He was the first African-American to win the state and national Intercollegiate Oratorical Associations’ contests.
A North Carolina native born on Jan. 11, 1913, McClain attended Springfield High School in 1930. He attended Wittenberg University after graduation in pursuit of an undergraduate degree. He later received degrees from the University of Michigan, Wilberforce University and University of Cincinnati. His focus was in law.
He was best known as Cincinnati’s City solicitor from March of 1963 through June of 1972. He became the first African-American to achieve such a high municipal legal position. It wasn’t easy for McClain to get his licenses to be a lawyer. He was denied membership twice, becoming the first African-American member of the Cincinnati Bar Association.
According to Ebony magazine, McClain looked up to a boy he met, who went by the name of Sully James, and was also a lawyer.
“I admire him and never had any other ambition than to be a lawyer, too,” McClain recalled to Ebony.
He later became the first African-American judge in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the Hamilton County for the Court of Pleas, then in the Municipal Court of Hamilton County.
McClain was a very active alumnus in his school and in the community. He was the board member and President of the Wittenberg University Alumni. At the University Of Michigan Law School, he served as a member of the Committee of Visitors.
Later, he served as a trustee for the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati. He also participated in a couple of fraternities, such as Alpha Delta Boule and Sigma Pi Phi. Alpha Delta Boule is the Cincinnati subordinate boule. Sigma Pi Phi was bringing together black business and professional men who achieved a college degree.
In 2004, Wittenberg University named the cultural house after McClain as an honor of what he had done for the community. In 2012, it was renamed the Diversity house, which included American International Association, Concerned Black Students and the Gay/Straight Alliance. According to the Wittenberg article, McClain noted that this moment was the “crowning moment” in his life.
McClain has always been inclined to Wittenberg and its community.
“Racial barriers are not fixed and immovable,” McClain said.
At the Honors Convocation of 2013, McClain was given the Wittenberg Medal of Honor at 100 years-old. He responded by waving his cane around when he was applauded.
On Feb. 4, 2014, McClain died at 101 years of age.