Jr.: SOLICITOR GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES
by Kin Foley
Text and photos courtesy of The
Latin School Association
as a matter of course, many Boston Latin graduates go on to
illustrious and rewarding careers. What is not at all usual
is to be so respected and revered that your name is inscribed
in gold on the upper frieze of the Boston Latin School auditorium.
There is room for only 38 names on that list and the final
spot was given to Wade Hampton McCree Jr. '37, who passed
away in 1987. He joins such luminaries as John Hancock, Joseph
Kennedy and Leonard Bernstein.
Well-respected for his impressive
career and his integrity, McCree has always been known as
a groundbreaker. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated
summa cum laude from Fisk University in 1941. After a four-year
stint in the Army during World War II, he graduated from Harvard
Law School in 1948. At a time when some lunch counters wouldn't
serve black people, McCree became the first African-American
judge appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit
and the second African-American solicitor general in the history
of the United States. McCree came from a long line of people
determined to have an education despite all difficulties.
His grandmother, Martha Hale McCree, a widow of a Union soldier
with 13 children to support, worked in food services at Fisk
University in Tennessee and encouraged her children to attend
college. McCree's father was one of her three children to
attend Fisk, working as a butler to pay for school.
There McCree Sr. met his future
wife, Lucretia "Lulu" Harper. They married and settled in
Des Moines, Iowa, after he received a degree in pharmacology
at the University of Iowa. He opened what is believed to be
the first drugstore in Iowa owned by an African-American.
After World War I, McCree's father switched gears and worked
for the Federal Narcotics Service. In 1924 he became the narcotics
agent in charge of Hawaii. Again, this was a first for an
African-American. After being transferred to Chicago, McCree
Sr. requested to be moved to Boston so his five children could
benefit from the superior education offered by the public
schools. And so they did.
McCree Jr.'s younger brother,
James said his brother received the Latin School's Patrick
Thomas Campbell Prize for being the student who showed the
greatest improvement between junior and senior years. His
sister, Catherine McCree Barthwell, said she can remember
helping with his "memory work" every night. He could recite
those passages of Greek and Latin his entire life, to the
amazement of friends and colleagues. McCree, like his father,
worked various jobs to help pay for college.
graduating 12th in his class from Harvard Law School in 1948
and passing the bar exam, McCree and his wife, Dores, a Simmons
graduate, moved to her hometown of Detroit. There, McCree
entered into private practice at the legendary black law firm
of Bledsoe & Taylor. In 1953 he was appointed to the Workman's
Compensation Commission by Governor G. Mennen Williams. Two
years later he became the first African-American to be named
a judge of the Circuit Court for Wayne County, Mich. After
that it was onward and upward.
President John F. Kennedy appointed
him to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of
Michigan in 1961, another first for an African-American. In
1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. He served there until
1977, when he left to become solicitor general of the United
States, the second African-American to hold that office -
Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was the first. President
Jimmy Carter, who nominated McCree to the post, said at his
memorial service that McCree was "a true American hero."
the "10th Justice," McCree served as solicitor general for
four years. He stepped down in 1981 to become the Lewis M.
Simes Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, a position
he held until his death. As solicitor general, McCree personally
argued 25 cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, including the Richard
Nixon presidential tapes case and the Bakke "reverse discrimination"
McCree's list of accomplishments
is impressive, to be sure, but how he did it and how he influenced
others by his actions and words is equally impressive. Rather
than worry about obstacles imposed because of discrimination,
McCree worked to make equality a reality. McCree taught his
three children to be aware of history and race, but not to
dwell on it, said his eldest daughter Kathleen Lewis. She
and her brother chose law as their careers, too.
an appellate lawyer in Michigan and recently nominated by
President Clinton to the same U.S. Court of Appeals post her
father once held, said education was "critically important"
to her father. She said expanding opportunities for everyone
was vital to him and he felt education was an "obligation
When Lewis was denied entrance
into an all-girls school in Detroit based on her race, her
father founded the independent, interracial Friends School
of Detroit in 1965. Although built too late for Lewis to attend,
her younger sister did. Later, McCree helped found the Higher
Education Opportunity Committee, which identifies worthy students
in middle school and provides them with college scholarships.
The statewide program in Michigan was renamed for him after
his death. Lewis says that to this day people come up to her
and relate how her father impacted their lives. "He gave wonderful
advice," said Lewis. "He listened uncritically." Her sister,
Karen McCree, a librarian at Time Warner in New York, agrees.
"He showed everyone respect. He was admired even by his opposition."
Wade Harper McCree, Karen's
twin brother and a judge in Detroit, said their father was
"gracious to all" and quoted a proverb by which the elder
McCree lived. He carries it written down, but his father had
it memorized: "Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate
with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant
of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have
been all of these."
PLAQUE ON BEACON HILL
At the headquarters of the American Unitarian Association
in Boston, the Dining Room of Eliot House features a plaque
whose inscription includes these lines:
(b. 1920) and Wade McCree (1920-1987) met while she was
a student at Simmons College and he was at Harvard Law School.
Dores remembers him as a confident man intent upon achieving
an understanding of the world and its people.
was a teacher of Latin and Greek" Dores recalls.
Dores were devoted members of Detroit's First Unitarian
Universalist Church and Wade served as vice moderator of
the UUA in 1965-66.
H. McCree, Jr.: A Compassionate and Great Judge (Ann Arbor:
Michigan Law Review: November 1987)