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Judge McClain broke barriers in legal system

2/6/2014, 12:08 p.m.

Judge William McClain, who broke barriers as a lawyer and judge in Hamilton County, died shortly after noon Tuesday, Feb. 4, while surrounded by family members. He was 101.

Judge McClain was born on Jan. 11, 1913, in Sanford, North Carolina. He attended Wittenberg University (Springfield, Ohio), graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1934. In 1937, he received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School.

He was a member of the Bar of Ohio for more than 70 years. In 1951, after being denied membership twice, Judge McClain became the first Black member of the Cincinnati Bar Association. He later became the City Solicitor of Cincinnati (1963-72) making him the first Black attorney to serve as City Solicitor of any major city in the country.

During his years as an attorney, he was a member of the law firm of Keating, Muething & Klekamp (1972-73); he was the first Black judge of the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court; he also served on the Hamilton County Municipal Court and as Civil Trial Referee for the same Court.

On May 4, 1997, he was awarded the highly coveted Ellis Island Medal of Honor. The award was created in 1986 to honor the many ancestral groups who through struggle, sacrifice, and success helped build our great nation. The Mallory Center for Community Development bestowed upon him its History Maker Award on Feb. 24, 2001. In 2003, the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce recognized him as "A Great Living Cincinnatian." The crowning moment of his life came on Oct. 23, 2004, when Wittenberg University dedicated "The William A. McClain Culture House" in honor of his life and career as the only Black graduate in the Class of 1934.

For more than twenty years, he was Of Counsel with the law firm of Manley Burke (1980-2003). He also served as the Director of Legal Services for the Village of Lincoln Heights (1980-87, and 1994-2003).

A public celebration of Judge McClain’s 100th birthday which was attended by hundreds of admirers was Jan. 13, 2013, at Allen Temple in Bond Hill.

Please visit www.TheCincinnatiHerald.com for details about arrangements.