Cecilia “Cissy” Marshall, a former NAACP legal secretary and widow of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, died Tuesday Nov. 22. She was with her family when she passed away in Falls Church. She was 94.
Cecilia “Cissy” Suyat, was born in Maui to immigrant parents. Her father sent her to New York to live with relatives because he objected to her marrying a man whose family spoke a different Filipino dialect.
While in New York and a student at Columbia University, she enrolled in evening courses to become a court stenographer. She told The Washington Post that an employment center agent saw “my dark skin and she sent me to the national office of the NAACP.” She worked on school desegregation cases for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund for seven years.
As the senior attorney for the NAACP in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark decision that forbade racial segregation in American public schools, Thurgood Marshall won at the Supreme Court in May 1954. He was devastated as his first wife, Vivian “Buster” Burey, suffered with lung cancer, eventually dying in February 1955.
Despite her initial rejection of the future Justice’s marriage proposal, the couple wed in December of 1955. It would be 12 years later that Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
He retired from the court in 1991 and died in 1993. Since that time, Cecilia Marshall served on the boards of the Supreme Court Historical Society and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She also participated in church activities and volunteer work.
She is survived by four grandchildren and three great grandchildren in addition to her two sons, Thurgood Marshall Jr. of Arlington, and John Marshall of Falls Church.