Cheri Beasley Receives Liberty Bell Award

Cheri L. BeasleyThe Hon. Cheri Beasley received the North Carolina Bar Association’s 2021 Liberty Bell Award on Friday, May 7. The award was presented during the Young Lawyers Division’s annual Law Day Ceremony, which was conducted virtually through the combined efforts of the NCBA, the North Carolina Bar Foundation and the YLD Law Day/Liberty Bell Award Committee.

Beasley is a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina and the first African American woman to serve in that capacity. She is now a partner with McGuireWoods in Raleigh.

Beasley began her career in 1994 as Assistant Public Defender for the Twelfth Judicial District in Cumberland County. She served as a District Court judge in Cumberland County for 10 years before her election to the N.C. Court of Appeals in 2008. She was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2012 and elected to an eight-year term in 2014.

Beasley was the second African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She was appointed chief justice by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2019. During her tenure, Beasley established the Chief Justice’s Commission on Fairness and Equity.

Beasley holds a Master of Laws in judicial studies from Duke University School of Law, a Doctor of Jurisprudence from The University of Tennessee College of Law, and a Bachelor of Arts in political science and economics from Rutgers University/Douglass College. She also completed a Summer Program in Law at the University of Oxford.

Beasley was also selected to receive an NCBA Citizen Lawyer Award this year. She served as Vice President on the NCBA Board of Governors and as a member of the North Carolina Bar Foundation Board of Directors from 2015-16. Beasley was named a Legal Legends of Color honoree by the NCBA Minorities in the Profession Committee in 2016.

Shelby Benton, Cheri Beasley, Ty Hands

Cheri Beasley, center, accepts 2016 Legal Legends of Color Award from 2015-16 NCBA + NCBF President Shelby Benton, left, and Judge Ty Hands.

In her Liberty Bell Award nomination letter, attorney Denaa J. Griffin shares why Beasley is deserving of this award.

Griffin writes, “[She] has served as an extraordinary role model to both judges and attorneys, as well as an inspiration to younger students who may be considering law school or similar careers. Chief Justice Beasley has shared with the legal profession her ability to encourage, teach, listen, set boundaries, explore, and motivate . . . There have been young men and women who have chosen to become jurists solely because of their interactions with Chief Justice Beasley and the encouragement she provides.”

The Liberty Bell Award reflects the ideals commemorated during Law Week, when elementary, middle and high school students have opportunities to learn about the law in a tangible way. Students take part in competitions including the Law Day Poster Art Contest for elementary school students, an essay competition, the McIntyre Youth Leadership Challenge and Moot Court Competition for middle school and high school students.

Beasley has given presentations throughout the years to students and to the public. She has spoken at schools and churches and as a panelist at universities, and she has served as a lecturer at UNC School of Law. She has presented on issues such as access to justice, juvenile justice and civil rights, legal aid and indigent defense and human trafficking.

Catharine Arrowood, a second nominator for Beasley’s selection for this award, remarks, “[She] has spent her entire legal career encouraging respect for the law and the courts . . . [and is] a true standard bearer for the profession and the rule of law.”

Beasley is a recipient of the WRAL Celebrating Black History Award (2019); the University of Tennessee Trailblazer Award for African Americans (2018); a Public Service Award from the National Council of Negro Women, Capitol Area (2018); the Chancellor’s Medallion from Fayetteville State University (2014); and the Gwyneth B. Davis Award from the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys (2014). She has been named as a Wiley A. Branton Symposium Honoree by the National Bar Association (2015) and a Hall of Fame Inductee by the African American Alumni Alliance at Rutgers University (2013).

The American Bar Association holds Law Day annually on the first Friday in May to celebrate the role of law in our society and to cultivate a deeper understanding of the legal profession. The theme for this year’s 63rd anniversary of Law Day is “Advancing the Rule of Law Now.”

The Liberty Bell Award is one of the highest honors presented to an attorney in North Carolina. It is an opportunity to recognize an individual who exemplifies lifelong service to the law.

Previous winners of the Liberty Bell Award are: Congressman Mike McIntyre, Chief Justice Mark D. Martin, Judge James A. Wynn Jr., Chief Judge Linda McGee, Judge Beth Keever, Judge Sammie Chess Jr., Maj. Gen. (retired) James B. Mallory III, Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Judge Earl Britt, Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, Justice Harry C. Martin, U.S. Attorney Janice McKenzie Cole, Stacy C. Eggers Jr., Judge E. Maurice Braswell, Judge Herbert L. Richardson, William Joslin, Chief Justice Henry Frye, Judge Robert R. Browning, Judge Lacy Thornburg, Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., William C. Friday, Judge Sam J. Ervin III, Gov. Terry Sanford, Herbert H. Taylor Jr., Judge James Dickson Phillips Jr., Wade E. Brown, Judge Hiram H. Ward, Kathrine Everett, Rep. L. Richardson Preyer, Justice J. Frank Huskins, McNeill Smith, Judge Franklin T. Dupree Jr., Sec. of State Thad Eure, Chief Justice Joseph Branch, Dr. Robert E. Lee, William B. Aycock, Chief Justice Susie Sharp and Sen. Sam Ervin Jr.