Three Great Women

I always wondered about the women in Thurgood Marshall’s life–his mother and his wife.  I decided to browse the Internet to see what information I could find.

Thurgood’s mother, Norma Arica was a public school teacher for over 25 years.  When her son attended Howard University Law School she pawned her wedding and engagement rings to pay his tuition (Michael Lariens).  I found this interesting because I read on another site that Norma wanted her son to become a dentist.  However, when she saw how well her son did in court, she was glad he became a lawyer

During Thurgood’s childhood, Norma and her husband  taught him how to argue, by making him prove every statement he made, and by challenging every point he made, unintentionally instilling in him the characteristics he needed in order to be an effective lawyer (Mccsc.edu).

Norma along with her husband and Thurgood’s grandparents encouraged him to adjust to segregation, rather than fight it. “I was taught to go along with it, not fight it unless you could win!”  Thurgood later became  the first African American to serve on the highest court in the country, and held that post until his retirement 24 years later in 1991.  He acknowledged that, “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots” (http://www.thurgoodmarshallms.mnps.org/Page39045.aspx).

Thurgood was married twice.  I didn’t know that.  His first wife, Vivian Burey was a student from the University of Pennsylvania.  She helped Thurgood to make the decision to attend law school.  Viven died of lung cancer on February 11, 1955.  Thurgood remarried.  His second wife Cecilia Suyat was a Hawaiian.  

As for her early life, Cecilia Suyat Marshall said that both her parents were born in the Philippines while she was born and raised in Hawaii.  She described her life in Hawaii as one without prejudice where all types of people integrated well.   Her father had his own printing company.  Her mother died when she was young and having many siblings, she felt she should go and take care of herself.

Her father encouraged her to go to New York where she found work at the the NAACP.  Her first job there was to picket the movie theater where “Birth of a Nation” was being shown.  She said it did stop showing shortly after their protest.   She worked her way up from stenography pool to the private secretary of the head of the NAACP organization, Dr. Gloster B. Current from 1948-55.  This was an important position due to the fact that he was head of 1,500 NAACP groups throughout the USA.

In December 1955 she met Thurgood Marshall who was then the chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Cecilia was described as a a warm, nurturing and proud mother to Thurgood’s two sons.  She was proud of her husband’s accomplishments, especially his victory in the Brown vs Board of Education case because it also succeeded in ending segregation in restaurants and hotels.

Cecilia believed in the importance of preserving “our history not for our generation but for the younger generation… to keep reminding them and telling them the history of where we came from…it was not very easy”((http://fairfaxasianamericans.community.officelive.com/EssayCivilRightsMarshallCeciliaSuyat.aspx).   ((http://fairfaxasianamericans.community.officelive.com/EssayCivilRightsMarshallCeciliaSuyat.aspx).

You know the old adage:  Behind every great man there stands a great woman.  In Thurgood Marshall’s case there were three.  The love, support and devotion of these remarkable women helped him along his journey to the Supreme Court.

Thurgood Marshall Before His Swearing in at the Supreme Court

Cecilia with Thurgood

 

 

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