Cecilia Suyat Marshall

Last updated

Cecilia Suyat Marshall
Thurgood Marshall and family, 1965.png
Cecilia (left) along with Thurgood Marshall (right), and their sons in 1965
Cecilia Suyat

(1928-07-20)July 20, 1928
DiedNovember 22, 2022(2022-11-22) (aged 94)
OccupationCivil rights activist and historian
(m. 1955;died 1993)

Cecilia Suyat Marshall (July 20, 1928 – November 22, 2022) was an American civil rights activist and historian from Hawaii who was married to Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice, from 1955 until his death in 1993. She was of Filipino descent. Her life is featured in the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian and she was recorded by the Library of Congress regarding her experiences with civil rights in the United States. In the 1940s and 1950s, she served as a stenographer and private secretary for the NAACP in Washington, D.C.


Early life and career

Cecilia "Cissy" Suyat was born in Pu'unene, Maui, in Hawaii on July 20, 1928. [1] Her parents emigrated from the Philippines in 1910. [1] Her father owned a printing company and her mother died when she was young. She was raised in Hawaii with many siblings. [2]

Suyat moved to New York City to live with her maternal uncle and aunt, on the advice of her father, [1] [3] before starting work for the NAACP in Washington D.C. [2] [4] In her first assignment, she picketed the film The Birth of a Nation at a local theater, which soon stopped showing the film. Suyat took night classes at Columbia University to become a court stenographer and eventually became the private secretary of Dr. Gloster B. Current, the head of the NAACP, from 1948 to 1955. She played a role in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case. [4] [5]


Suyat met Thurgood Marshall, then married him in 1955 after Marshall's previous wife, Vivian Burey, died of lung cancer. Suyat married Marshall on December 17, 1955. [4] Roy Wilkins, who was secretary of the NAACP, presided over the service at St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Harlem, New York. Visitors to their apartment included Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. [2] [4]

Suyat and Marshall were the parents of John W. Marshall, a former Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and former U.S. Marshals Service Director, and Thurgood Marshall Jr. Juan Williams reported Suyat worked extensively in Marshall's later years to keep his explosions of "frustration with the conservative court and what remained of the Civil Rights Movement" out of the public, afraid that they would embarrass him. [6]

Later life and death

Suyat spent her life preserving history and continued to fight for civil rights after her husband's death. She believed that there is still a long way to go. [7] [8] [9] She gave an oral history interview for the Library of Congress conducted by Emilye Crosby in Washington, D.C. on June 30, 2013. [2] Her story is now featured in the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. [4] The interview was authorized by the United States Congress on May 12, 2009, in the Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-19). The exhibit was created as part of a 5-year initiative to survey existing oral history collections with relevance to the Civil Rights Movement and record new interviews with people who participated in the social and political movement. [10]

Suyat attended the opening of a new school building for the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change in New York City's Harlem neighborhood in 2004. [11]

Suyat died on November 22, 2022, at the age of 94 in Falls Church, Virginia. [12] [13]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thurgood Marshall</span> US Supreme Court justice from 1967 to 1991

Thurgood Marshall was an American civil rights lawyer and jurist who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1967 until 1991. He was the Supreme Court's first American Black justice. Prior to his judicial service, he was an attorney who fought for civil rights, leading the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marshall coordinated the assault on racial segregation in schools. He won 29 of the 32 civil rights cases he argued before the Supreme Court, culminating in the Court's landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which rejected the separate but equal doctrine and held segregation in public education to be unconstitutional. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall to the Supreme Court in 1967. A staunch liberal, he frequently dissented as the Court became increasingly conservative.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Claudette Colvin</span> African-American civil rights activist (born 1939)

Claudette Colvin is an American pioneer of the 1950s civil rights movement and retired nurse aide. On March 2, 1955, she was arrested at the age of 15 in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat to a white woman on a crowded, segregated bus. This occurred nine months before the more widely known incident in which Rosa Parks, secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), helped spark the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Irene Morgan</span> African-American anti-segregation activist

Irene Amos Morgan, later known as Irene Morgan Kirkaldy, was an African-American woman from Baltimore, Maryland, who was arrested in Middlesex County, Virginia, in 1944 under a state law imposing racial segregation in public facilities and transportation. She was traveling on an interstate bus that operated under federal law and regulations. She refused to give up her seat in what the driver said was the "white section". At the time she worked for a defense contractor on the production line for B-26 Marauders.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund</span> Organization in New York, United States

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. is a leading United States civil rights organization and law firm based in New York City.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jack Greenberg</span> American lawyer and activist

Jack Greenberg was an American attorney and legal scholar. He was the Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund from 1961 to 1984, succeeding Thurgood Marshall.

The Civil Rights Congress (CRC) was a United States civil rights organization, formed in 1946 at a national conference for radicals and disbanded in 1956. It succeeded the International Labor Defense, the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties, and the National Negro Congress, serving as a defense organization. Beginning about 1948, it became involved in representing African Americans sentenced to death and other highly prominent cases, in part to highlight racial injustice in the United States. After Rosa Lee Ingram and her two teenage sons were sentenced in Georgia, the CRC conducted a national appeals campaign on their behalf, their first for African Americans.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert L. Carter</span> American judge

Robert Lee Carter was an American lawyer, civil rights activist and a United States district judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Autherine Lucy</span> African-American activist (1929–2022)

Autherine Juanita Lucy was an American activist who was the first African-American student to attend the University of Alabama, in 1956. Her expulsion from the institution later that year led to the university's President Oliver Carmichael's resignation. Years later, the University admitted her as a master's student and in 2010 a clock tower was erected in her honor on its campus.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thurgood Marshall Jr.</span> American lawyer

Thurgood Marshall Jr. is an American lawyer and son of the late Supreme Court of the United States Justice Thurgood Marshall.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clarence Mitchell Jr.</span> American civil rights activist (1911-1984)

Clarence Maurice Mitchell Jr. was an American civil rights activist and was the chief lobbyist for the NAACP for nearly 30 years. He also served as a regional director for the organization.

John William Marshall served as Secretary of Public Safety in the Cabinet of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine from 2006 to 2010, and Governor Mark Warner from 2002 to 2006, and was the longest-serving member of the Virginia Governor's Cabinet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson</span> American activist

Lillie May Carroll Jackson, pioneer civil rights activist, organizer of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP. Invariably known as "Dr. Lillie", "Ma Jackson", and the "mother of the civil rights movement", Lillie May Carroll Jackson pioneered the tactic of non-violent resistance to racial segregation used by Martin Luther King Jr. and others during the early civil rights movement.

<i>Keys v. Carolina Coach Co.</i> Landmark 1955 US civil rights case

Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, 64 MCC 769 (1955) is a landmark civil rights case in the United States in which the Interstate Commerce Commission, in response to a bus segregation complaint filed in 1953 by a Women's Army Corps (WAC) private named Sarah Louise Keys, broke with its historic adherence to the Plessy v. Ferguson separate but equal doctrine and interpreted the non-discrimination language of the Interstate Commerce Act as banning the segregation of black passengers in buses traveling across state lines.

Hocutt v. Wilson, N.C. Super. Ct. (1933) (unreported), was the first attempt to desegregate higher education in the United States. It was initiated by two African American lawyers from Durham, North Carolina, Conrad O. Pearson and Cecil McCoy, with the support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The case was ultimately dismissed for lack of standing, but it served as a test case for challenging the "separate but equal" doctrine in education and was a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

<i>Devil in the Grove</i>

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America is a 2012 non-fiction book by the American author Gilbert King. It is a history of the attorney Thurgood Marshall's defense of four young black men in Lake County, Florida, who were accused in 1949 of raping a white woman. They were known as the Groveland Boys. Marshall led a team from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Published by Harper, the book was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. The Pulitzer Committee described it as "a richly detailed chronicle of racial injustice."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sherrilyn Ifill</span> American lawyer

Sherrilyn Ifill is an American lawyer. She is a law professor and former president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She was the Legal Defense Fund's seventh president since Thurgood Marshall founded the organization in 1940. Ifill is also a nationally recognized expert on voting rights and judicial selection. In 2021, Time named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world on its annual Time 100 list.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mabel Murphy Smythe-Haith</span> America diplomat

Mabel Murphy Smythe-Haith was an American diplomat who served as Ambassador for the United States to Cameroon and later Equatorial Guinea, as well as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

Vivian "Buster" Burey Marshall was an American civil rights activist and was married for 25 years, until her death, to Thurgood Marshall, lead counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who also managed Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Following her death, her husband was later appointed as the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Gloster B. Current was deputy executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Director of Branches and Field Administration of the NAACP during the Civil Rights Movement. It was a period of major expansion and activism for the NAACP. He also wrote a book, was an accomplished jazz musician, and was an ordained Methodist minister. His first wife was Leontine Turpeau, also a minister; they had three children but later divorced. At the time of his death, he lived in Hollis, Queens, with his wife second wife Rebecca Busch Current.

Ruth Willis Perry was an American librarian, journalist, and civil rights activist. She is known for her work with the Miami chapter of the NAACP and her stand against the Johns Committee, also known as the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, which investigated alleged subversive actions by the NAACP.


  1. 1 2 3 "St. Augustine's Episcopal Church DC SW : Cecilia Marshall". www.staugustinesdc.org. Archived from the original on April 25, 2018. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Cecilia Suyat Marshall oral history interview conducted by Emilye Crosby in Washington, D.C., 2013-06-30". The Library of Congress. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  3. Hutchinson, Louise (November 26, 1966). "About Women in Washington". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 24, 2018 via Newspapers.com.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Brown, DeNeen L. (August 18, 2016). "Thurgood Marshall's interracial love: 'I don't care what people think. I'm marrying you.'". Washington Post. ISSN   0190-8286 . Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  5. Brown, DeNeen L. (August 20, 2016). "Cissy Marshall recalls day of Brown v. Board of Education decision". Washington Post. ISSN   0190-8286 . Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  6. Williams, Juan (June 22, 2011). Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary. Crown/Archetype. ISBN   9780307786128.
  7. "On the Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, "Cissy" Marshall Laments Lack of Progress | Milwaukee Courier Weekly Newspaper". milwaukeecourieronline.com. May 27, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  8. "Thurgood Marshall's Widow Keeps His Legacy Alive – Los Angeles Sentinel". Los Angeles Sentinel. May 11, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  9. "2017: The Year in Review". washingtoninformer.com. The Washington Informer. December 27, 2017. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  10. "Civil Rights History Project by Library of Congress on Apple Podcasts". Apple Podcasts. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  11. "Jet". Johnson Publishing Company. February 23, 2004.
  12. Barnes, Bart (November 22, 2022). "Cecilia 'Cissy' Marshall, keeper of Thurgood Marshall's legacy, dies at 94". The Washington Post . Retrieved November 22, 2022.
  13. "Cecilia 'Cissy' Marshall, keeper of Thurgood Marshall's legacy, dies at 94". Washington Post. ISSN   0190-8286 . Retrieved November 24, 2022.