I. Beverly Lake, Jr. – A Life of Dedication to Wake Forest
Today we sadly bid goodbye to I. Beverly Lake, Jr., one of the giants of Wake Forest who consistently cherished and supported our local history while moving on to become one of North Carolina’s most complex and inspiring judicial leaders.
For many years, Lake served as a member of the Board of the Wake Forest College Birthplace Society, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the museum. As a Wake Forest native and Wake Forest University alumnus, he generously offered advice, guidance, and direction.
Lake was born in Raleigh on January 30, 1934 and grew up in Wake Forest, where his father was a Professor of Law at Wake Forest College.
His childhood coincided with World War II. While the country was at war, Lake watched from his home on N. Main Street, later sharing his memories in an oral history given to the museum in 2010.
“There was no bypassing of Wake Forest, so all of the troop convoys came right through town and we could stand in our front yard and talk to them, wave to them, and sometimes go out if they were stopped and give them doughnuts and coffee and things like that…. I remember a little cousin of mine, visiting, dressed up in her nurse’s uniform and she went right out on the sidewalk and saluted the soldiers as they came back and that thrilled them quite a bit, they were taken with that.”
Lake graduated from Wake Forest College in 1955, became a lawyer, and in 1976 was elected to the first of two terms in the North Carolina Senate, authoring legislation on public utilities, private and church school, and criminal justice reform.
Although he ran for governor in 1980 (and lost), Lake was determined to make a difference and continued in public life, accepting an appointment as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina in 1992. Eight years later he was elected Chief Justice, becoming the first Republican to fill that position since 1894.
Perhaps most importantly, Lake established North Carolina’s Actual Innocence Commission in 2002. This began his life’s third act, a period dedicated to preventing wrongful convictions in our state. Lake leveraged his political reputation as a legal conservative to bring together police, prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, and law professors in an effort to improve the system for both victims and suspects.
Lake’s efforts mattered. Among the changes he pushed through was a law that established North Carolina as one of the first states in the nation to require the recording of police interrogations.
He also championed laws to impose rigorous standards for photo lineups and to create comprehensive guidelines for preserving DNA evidence and post-conviction DNA testing.
By 2015, the Innocence Commission had an expert panel investigating claims of wrongful conviction and had generated a dozen exonerations.
It’s interesting to see that many of these reforms have especially benefited African-American defendants, which is a relevant piece of the Lake family history. Lake’s father, I. Beverly Lake, Sr., is noted as having failed to recognize the vital necessity of civil rights well into the start of the movement. He continued to embrace a segregationist platform even while running against Terry Sanford in the race for North Carolina governor in 1960.
Perhaps this complex family background–a history that changed and evolved along with our times–is behind Lake’s dedication to the North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission. He considered that work to be his legacy.
Until the end of his life, Lake spoke proudly but humbly about his accomplishments, simply saying he did his best to guarantee our state criminal justice system worked fairly for everyone.
We will miss him.