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Widow of Thurgood Marshall, civil rights activist dies at 94

Cecilia Marshall, widow of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, laughs while watching a slide show about her husband during a meeting to rally support for renaming Baltimore-Washington International Airport after Thurgood Marshall, one of the state’s most famous native sons and the first Black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, in Annapolis, Md., March 28, 2005. The Supreme Court says Cecilia “Cissy” Marshall has died. She was 94.(AP Photo/Matthew S. Gunby)

The widow of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black man to serve on the court, died Tuesday, according to a statement from the court. She was 94. 

Cecilia Suyat Marshall, who was known as “Cissy,” was also a civil rights activist and worked as a stenographer for the NAACP for seven years, from 1948 to 1955. She also volunteered at a church and served on boards for the Supreme Court Historical Society, a nonprofit that works to preserve the history of the court, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. 

She was born on July 20, 1928, in Pu’unene, Maui, in Hawaii, which was a U.S. territory at the time. She married Thurgood Marshall, then the leader of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, on Dec. 17, 1955, one year after he successfully argued that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. 

President Lyndon Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall as the first Black justice on the Supreme Court in 1967, and he sat on the bench for over two decades before he retired 1991. He died in 1993. 

Chief Justice John Roberts praised Cissy Marshall in the court’s statement, saying that she was a “vibrant and engaged member of the Court family.” He said she was often in the spouse’s box at the court for oral arguments and at Supreme Court Historical Society events and rarely missed a memorial service, spouse’s lunch or other court event. 

“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. 

Justice Elena Kagan, who served as a clerk for Thurgood Marshall, said every clerk for him received “steadfast friendship and support” from Cissy Marshall. 

“She was a marvelous woman, and we all loved and admired her. The community of [Thurgood Marshall] clerks will today feel a great loss,” she said. 

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

Tags Cecilia Marshall Cecilia Marshall Cissy Marshall Cissy Marshall civil rights movement Elena Kagan Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall Thurgood Marshall
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