Judge Thurgood Marshall’s wife, “Cissy” Marshall, dies at 94

This story was written by Associated Press reporter Jessica Gresko.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Cecilia “Cissy” Suyat Marshall, the wife of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall who worked alongside the civil rights champion in the NAACP, died Tuesday at age 94, the Supreme Court announced.

Marshall’s husband became the high court’s first black justice in 1967 after a career as a civil rights attorney in which he argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that outlawed segregation in public schools . He retired from the high court in 1991 and died in 1993 at the age of 84.

Cecilia Suyat was born in Hawaii on July 20, 1928. She later moved to New York City and took night classes at Columbia University to become a stenographer. An employment office sent her in 1948 to work at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“The clerk, she saw my dark skin and sent me to the national office of the NAACP,” he said in a 2016 interview. “That’s 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 if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have known about a career problem.”

FILE - Supreme Court Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, right, stands with his family as they watch him take his seat on the court for the first time, Oct. 2, 1967. From left are Marshall son Thurgood, Jr., 11, wife Cecilia.  , and their son John, 9 years old.  Marshall joined the Supreme Court in 1967 as the court's first black justice.  The Supreme Court Cecilia "Cissy" died.  He was 94 years old.  (AP Photo/Henry Griffin, file)
Supreme Court Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, right, stands with his family as they watch him take his seat on the court for the first time, October 2, 1967. From left is son of Marshall, Thurgood Jr., 11, wife Cecilia and son. John, 9. AP Photo/Henry Griffin

Suyat, who was of Filipino descent, said that “being born in the Hawaiian Islands, we never had these racial issues, and so working with the NAACP was an eye-opener for me.”

It was also at the NAACP that she met her future husband. He worked on several cases and was there for the case of the so-called Groveland Four, the four young black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in Florida. He also helped take notes and write briefs as Marshall prepared for arguments in the Brown v. case. Board of Education, which was argued in 1952 and 1953.

In interviews later in life, he recalled the celebration after Brown was decided.

“I don’t know about you fools,” Marshall recalled saying at some point during the festivities, “but I’m going back to work. Our work has just begun.”

Marshall’s first wife, Vivien Burey, died of cancer in 1955. He and Suyat married later that year. He left the NAACP after he married.

But the marriage almost didn’t happen, he said, and not because of their 20-year age difference. She said many people still considered her “a foreigner” and was worried about the backlash.

“When Thurgood proposed I said, ‘No way,'” she recalled in 2013. She said he insisted, “I’m marrying you. I’m not marrying the country and they’re not marrying me.”

They had two sons, Thurgood Jr. and John It wasn’t until just before Marshall joined the Supreme Court that the justices ruled in Loving v. Virginia that the laws of 16 states prohibiting interracial marriage could not stand.

In a statement, Chief Justice John Roberts said Cissy Marshall was a “vibrant and engaged member of the court family” who regularly attended court events.

“You wanted to sit next to him at any event,” she wrote. “He had an easy sense of humor that could be, in the right setting, of course, a little cheeky.”

Justice Elena Kagan, who clerked for Marshall, called Cissy Marshall a “wonderful woman” and wrote, “All of Justice Marshall’s clerks received a bonus of sorts: the steadfast friendship and support of her Mrs. Cissy.”

The Supreme Court said funeral arrangements were pending. Thurgood Marshall was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington in a section of the cemetery where several former judges were buried.


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