On Tuesday, November 22, Cecilia S. Marshall, the wife of U.S.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall, died in Falls Church, Virginia, where the
mother, grandmother and great-grandmother lived for many years.
The Supreme Court shared the news of her death in a statement but did not include a cause.
Marshall, a former NAACP legal secretary who grew up in Hawaii and whose parents were
immigrants from the Philippines, died at the age of 94.
A committed group of D.C. community and business leaders, as well as the Mayor’s Office,
joined forces in 1982 to save the historic Anthony Bowen Building, located in Northwest
Washington, D.C. For decades, it represented one of only a handful of YMCA facilities in the
U.S. that allowed African Americans to both enjoy and utilize its services and to stay there for
lodging – a vital oasis for Blacks during the many years of legalized segregation.
In 1996, Marshall agreed to its being renamed in her husband’s honor as the Thurgood Marshall
Center for Service and Heritage Building. The revitalized building opened to the public under the
direction of the Thurgood Marshall Center Trust (TMCT), Inc., in February 2000. Marshall and
her family attended the celebration and participated in the ribbon cutting. She also accepted
being named as honorary board chair for the TMCT.
In an interview held at the Center shortly after the ribbon cutting with local reporter Barrington
Salmon, Marshall shared a few memories about her husband and their collective efforts in
achieving justice for all. She remained committed to that mission until her death.
“Thurgood was a product of segregation having been born in Baltimore where it was rampant,”
she said. “He couldn’t even get on the bus. The many forms of injustice which he and other
Blacks were forced to endure there and throughout the country spurred him on to become a
leader for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and to fight against segregation.”
“As we were celebrating the victory of Brown v. Board, I remember him joining the festivities –
but only for an hour. Then, he said, ‘I don’t know about you fools but our work is just getting
started.’ Imagine, it’s 60 years later and we’re still fighting bigotry in America. Segregation and
other forms of injustice are not as blatant as they once were but they’re still here. But the good
news is children of different races are now able to go to school together. Blacks can stay in
hotels and eat in restaurants and take public transportation without the threat or enforcement of
“Since my husband’s death, I committed myself to speaking and meeting with legal groups,
youth groups – anyone I can to keep his name alive and to inspire others to continue to fight on. I
remember years ago, speaking with a woman not much younger than me who knew nothing
about Brown v. Board. I felt embarrassed for her. But it shows that our schools need to do a
much better job at teaching American history,” Marshall said.
Dr. Benjamin Chavis, board chairman for TMCT, shared words of support to the Marshall family
while acknowledging the noteworthy contributions of Cecilia Marshall.
“The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and the TMCT declare our profound
sympathy and condolences to the family of Mrs. Cecilia Marshall,” Chavis said. “[She] was a
devoted companion and freedom fighter for decades with her husband, U.S. Supreme Court
Justice Thurgood Marshall. May her memory and legacy inspire generations of future freedom
fighters and civil rights leaders.”
Thomasina W. Yearwood, president and CEO, TMCT, and a close friend with Cecilia Marshall,
expressed her sentiments and sorrow in the death of “Cissy” Marshall.
As the honorary chair for TMCT’s board of directors, a job she held with distinction, and the
person most dedicated to ensuring the lasting legacy of her late husband, Justice Thurgood
Marshall, Cecilia Marshall personified what it meant to be a champion in the fight for equality
and justice for all in America,” Yearwood said. “She firmly believed that the battle to end
segregation and other forms of discrimination to which Justice Marshall committed his life,
“The Thurgood Marshall Center Trust remains forever indebted to Cecilia Marshall who agreed
to the renaming of the Anthony Bowen Building as the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service
and Heritage Building in 1996. Four years later, in February 2000, she and members of her
family, participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for our newly renovated building. It has been
an honor to assist Mrs. Marshall and her family in keeping the flame burning brightly and the
story and legacy of Thurgood Marshall alive for future generations,” Yearwood said.