Cecilia Suyat Marshall, wife of civil rights icon Justice Thurgood Marshall, dies at 94
Cecilia “Cissy” Marshall, the Filipino American wife of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice and civil rights hero Thurgood Marshall, and a civil rights activist herself, died on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at age 94.
She was born Cecilia Suyat in 1928 in Pu’unene, Maui, Hawaii, to parents who immigrated from the Philippines in 1910. Her father, Juan, owned a print shop. Her mother was Honorata Goso.
Cecilia moved to New York City at age 20 and worked as a stenographer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1948-1955. She also took night classes at Columbia University.
In one of her first assignments she picketed the notorious movie The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan. She would become a court stenographer and the private secretary of Dr. Gloster B. Current, the head of the NAACP, from 1948 to 1955.
In the NAACP, she met Thurgood Marshall who led the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and was chief counsel for the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision abolishing racial segregation in public schools.
Marshall’s wife of 25 years, Vivian Burey, who was in poor health, died in 1955. Although Cecilia was admittedly hesitant at first out of concern that a mixed marriage would invite undue controversy, she and Marshall married soon after.
Marshall became the first Black justice in Supreme Court history. Although he retired in 1991 and died in 1993, Cecilia continued to attend oral arguments and court socials. She also served on the board of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Supreme Court Historical Society, according to a CNN report.
Justice Elena Kagan, who was a law clerk for Justice Marshall during the 1987-88 session, said in a statement on Tuesday, “Every clerk to Justice Marshall received a sort of bonus: the steadfast friendship and support of his wife Cissy. She was a marvelous woman, and we all loved and admired her.”
Cecilia and Thurgood Marshall are survived by two sons, John W. Marshall, a former Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and former U.S. Marshals Service Director, and Thurgood Marshall Jr., as well as four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.