Cecilia Suyat Marshall, affectionately known as Cissy and the wife of late Supreme Court Justice and civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall, died on Tuesday (Nov. 21) at the age of 94. The news was confirmed by the Supreme Court’s public information office. A cause of death was not announced.
Suyat Marshall, of Filipino descent, was born in Hawaii on July 20, 1928. She moved to New York in her young adulthood and began working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1948. She took night classes at Columbia University to eventually become a stenographer.
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In an interview, the widow once said, “having been born in the Hawaiian Islands we never had that racial problems, and so working with the NAACP opened my eyes.” When getting the job with the organization, she told The Washington Post in 2016, “The clerk, she saw my dark skin, and she sent me to the national office of the NAACP. That is the only reason I can think of that she sent me to the NAACP for my first job. And to this day, I thank her, because had it not been for her, I wouldn’t have known anything about a race problem.”
She married Thurgood Marshall in December 1955 and the couple had two sons, Thurgood Jr. and John. Marshall helmed the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and served as chief counsel for the historic Brown v. Board of Education case. He became the first Black person to serve as a Supreme Court Justice on August 30, 1967.
He retired in 1991 and died two years later at the age of 84.
Upon news of her death, Chief Justice John Roberts spoke highly of Suyat Marshall in a statement to CNN. “You wanted to sit next to her at any event. She had an easy sense of humor that could be—in an appropriate setting, of course—a bit saucy.”
Justice Elena Kagan, who was once aided Justice Marshall as a law clerk in the late ’80s, added, “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. The community of TM clerks will today feel a great loss.”
Suyat Marshall is survived by her two sons, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. VIBE sends our deepest condolences to the Marshall family during this time.