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Cecilia Suyat Marshall

Cecilia "Cissy" Suyat Marshall
Cecilia Suyat

(1928-07-20) July 20, 1928 (age 94)
OccupationCivil rights activist and historian
(m. 1955; died 1993)

Cecilia "Cissy" Suyat Marshall (born July 20, 1928) is an American civil rights activist and historian from Hawaii. She is 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. She was married to Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice, from 1955 until his death in 1993.


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

Suyat moved to New York City to live with her maternal uncle and aunt, on the advice of her father, before starting work for the NAACP in Washington D.C. In her first assignment, she picketed the movie The Birth of a Nation at a local theater, which soon stopped playing the movie. 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 1948-55. She played a role in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case. Suyat met Thurgood Marshall, then married him in 1955 after Marshall's previous wife, Vivian Burey, died of lung cancer. Suyat married Marshall on Dec. 17, 1955. 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.

Suyat and Marshall are 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 they would embarrass him.

Suyat has spent her life preserving history and has continued to fight for civil rights after her husband's death. She believes there is still a long way to go. She gave an oral history interview for the Library of Congress conducted by Emilye Crosby in Washington, D.C. on June 30, 2013. Her story is now featured in the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The interview was authorized by the U. S. 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.

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

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