Home News Cecilia ‘Cissy’ Marshall, guardian of Thurgood Marshall’s legacy, dies at 94

Cecilia ‘Cissy’ Marshall, guardian of Thurgood Marshall’s legacy, dies at 94

Cecilia 'Cissy' Marshall, guardian of Thurgood Marshall's legacy, dies at 94
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Cecilia “Cissy” Marshall, a former NAACP legal secretary who protected the reputation and legacy of her late husband, Thurgood Marshall, a prominent civil rights attorney who became the first black justice on the United States Supreme Court. United, died Nov. 22 in Falls Church, Va. She was 94 years old.

The Supreme Court announced his death in a statement but did not cite a cause.

The daughter of Filipino immigrants, Ms Marshall – then known as Cissy Suyat – grew up in Hawaii and arrived after World War II in New York, where she took night classes to become a court reporter. A worker at an employment office “saw my dark skin and sent me to the NAACP national office,” she told the Washington Post years later.

Her starting salary in 1948 was $35 a week, but she quickly progressed in salary and responsibilities. She worked on school desegregation cases for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, typing up briefs and taking notes while attorneys rehearsed court cases.

His duties also included accompanying Defense Fund officers on trips to the Deep South, where they faced sometimes threatening local opposition. Once, she recalled in a government oral history, she was in a car when a passenger asked another to open the glove box.

Inside were a Bible and a gun. If threatened, she remembered the man saying, “We use the Bible first.

In May 1954, Thurgood Marshall triumphed in the Supreme Court as the lead attorney for the NAACP in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark decision that outlawed racial segregation in US public schools. In the months that followed, he became devastated when his first wife, Vivian “Buster” Burey, died of lung cancer. She died in February 1955.

Shortly thereafter, Marshall “began assiduously courting” Suyat, journalist Wil Haygood wrote in his 2015 biography “Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America.” They often left the office together and were seen having dinner with each other at restaurants in Harlem. Among NAACP personnel, it did not go unnoticed that at age 26, she was 20 years Marshall’s junior.

He proposed marriage, but she turned him down for reasons other than age, she told the Post. “No way,” she remembers telling him. “People will think you’re marrying a foreigner.”

Interracial marriage was then a particularly sensitive issue at the NAACP. In the late 1940s, after executive director Walter White divorced his wife and married a white woman, he faced a backlash from both whites and blacks. “His two sisters… excoriated him, telling him he had let the Negro down,” Haygood wrote of Walter White.

But Marshall would not be discouraged.

“I don’t care what people think. I’m marrying you,” she recalled telling him. He persisted and she ended up agreeing. They were married on December 17, 1955, at an Episcopal Church in Harlem, where Roy Wilkins, then executive secretary of the NAACP, gave her. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks were among the visitors to pay their respects at the couple’s apartment.

NAACP leaders had received advance notice of the nuptials. It was only after the ceremony that the media were informed. There was little to no public outcry.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York. The couple moved to the Washington area in 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him United States Solicitor General. Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1967.

The Marshalls also started a family. Cissy Marshall took on the guidance and care of their two sons and the management of their home in Falls Church while her husband was often away, either traveling or working long hours.

“Who is that man?” his son Thurgood Jr. once said upon seeing a photo of his father, according to Haygood’s book. Mrs. Marshall tried to explain to her children the importance of her work and the sacrifices it entailed for their family. He retired from court in 1991 and died in 1993.

Survivors include their sons, Thurgood Marshall Jr. of Arlington, Va., and John Marshall of Falls Church; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

In a 1998 biography, “Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary,” journalist Juan Williams wrote that, especially in Justice Marshall’s later years, he became known for his gruff and aloof manners, even with staffers and officials. friends — the result of what Williams called gnawing “frustration with the conservative court and what was left of the civil rights movement.”

Cissy Marshall said she tried to encourage her husband to speak out, while working diligently to protect him from embarrassing social encounters.

“Once in a while it’s going to blow up,” she told Williams. “I would like him to explode more and get it out of his system. But he keeps a lot of it.

Cecilia Suyat was born in Pu’unene, Maui on July 20, 1928. She was young when her mother died. Her father, who owned a printing company, sent her to New York to live with relatives, in part to get her away from a boyfriend he disapproved of because he spoke a different Filipino dialect.

“For my dad, it was a no-no,” she told the Post. “Imagine that? Another dialect, instead of another race? So he said, ‘You go to New York with your aunt and uncle and take a business class. What if you still like it in a year, come back and marry her.”

She married Marshall instead. She told the Post that they had a playful combative relationship based in part on the fact that he was a strapping 6ft 2in and she was 4ft 11in tall.

“How’s the weather over there, gal?” he teased her sometimes.

“Like up there, man,” she would reply. “I kept telling him, ‘I don’t care what your size is. I could still beat you. I’m going to get on a chair. ”


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