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Fri, 07.20.1928

Cecilia Suyat Marshall, Activist born

Cecilia Suyat Marshall

*Cecilia Suyat Marshall was born on this date in 1928.  She was an Asian-American activist and historian. She is of Filipino descent.  

Cecilia "Cissy" Suyat was born in Pu'unene, Maui, in Hawaii.  Her parents emigrated from the Philippines in 1910. Her father owned a printing company; 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 her father's advice, 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 and 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, 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 had two sons, John W. Marshall and Thurgood Marshall Jr.  Suyat spent her life preserving history and fought for civil rights after her husband's death. She believed there is still a long way to go.  

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.  She gave an oral history interview for the Library of Congress 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 exhibit was created as part of a 5-year initiative to survey existing oral history collections relevant to the American Civil Rights Movement and record new interviews with people who participated in the social and political movement.

Cecilia “Cissy” Marshall died on November 22, 2022, at age 94.

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