Published on: Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Cecilia “Cissy” Suyat Marshall, the wife of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall who worked alongside the civil rights champion at the NAACP, died Tuesday surrounded by her family at the age of 94, the Supreme Court announced (article available here).

Marshall’s husband became the high court’s first Black justice in 1967 following a career as a civil rights lawyer 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. It was at the NAACP that she met her future husband.

Suyat, who was of Filipino descent, said that “having been born in the Hawaiian islands we never had that racial problems, and so working with the NAACP opened my eyes.”

“The clerk, she saw my dark skin, and she sent me to the national office of the NAACP,” she said in a 2016 interview. “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.”

"Cissy Marshall was a vibrant and engaged member of the court family. She was often in the spouse's box for oral arguments, at Supreme Court Historical Society events, and rarely missed an investiture, memorial service, spouse's lunch or other court occasion," U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in Tuesday's statement. "She was warm and gracious and caring. 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."

"She was special, and all of us at the court will miss her greatly," he said.

"Every clerk to Justice Marshall received a sort of bonus: the steadfast friendship and support of his wife Ciss," Justice Elena Kagan, who clerked for Justice Marshall, said in Tuesday's statement. "She was a marvelous woman, and we all loved and admired her. The community of TM clerks will today feel a great loss."

Marshall is survived by her children, Thurgood Marshall Jr. and John Marshall, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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 a number of other former justices were buried.