Vivian Burey Marshall

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Vivian Burey Marshall
Vivian Burey

(1911-02-11)February 11, 1911
DiedFebruary 11, 1955(1955-02-11) (aged 44)
Other namesVivien Burey Marshall, Buster
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania
OccupationCivil rights activist
(m. 1929)

Vivian "Buster" Burey Marshall (February 11, 1911 – February 11, 1955) was an American civil rights activist and was married for 25 years, until her death, to Thurgood Marshall, lead counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who also managed Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Following her death, her husband was later appointed as the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice.


Vivian Burey was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 11, 1911.[1] She grew up in a middle-class black family; her parents Christopher and Maud Burey worked in catering in the city.[2] She attended local schools.

She met Thurgood Marshall at age eighteen[3][4][5] while she was a student at the University of Pennsylvania and he was a student at nearby Lincoln University.[6]

Buster married Thurgood Marshall on September 4, 1929, during Marshall's last year at Lincoln.[6] She is credited with helping her husband become a better student.[7] Marshall graduated cum laude and went on to graduate first in his law class at Howard University.[8] Upon meeting his family after they were engaged, Buster was warned by Marshall's uncle to avoid Marshall because he was a bum, and would "always be a bum."[7]

After Buster's husband Thurgood graduated from college in 1930, they moved to Baltimore where she worked as a secretary.[8] Burey had several miscarriages during her marriage and never had any children.[3] Her husband had some affairs.[5]

After Buster's husband completed law school, they moved to New York. In the mid-1940s he founded and served as director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which was based in New York. Buster also worked at the NAACP and the Legal Defense Fund, alongside other civil rights activists such as Edward W. Jacko and Jawn A. Sandifer.[9]

In the 1950s, Marshall was diagnosed with flu or pleurisy, but was sick for months. She eventually learned that she had lung cancer.[3] She hid her sickness from her husband for months, as he was leading the case of Brown v. Board of Education at the US Supreme Court. After it ruled on May 17, 1954, Marshall told her husband about her illness.[8] Richard Kluger credits Burey with being one of two people who had been indirectly active but important influencers of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, in his book, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality (2011).[10]

Marshall died of lung cancer on February 11, 1955, her 44th birthday, after 25 years of marriage.[11]

Marshall's husband remarried in December 1955, to Cecilia Suyat, a woman who worked as a secretary at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.[12]


Named in her memory, the Vivian Burey Marshall Academy was founded in 2016 as a program of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. It pairs students with U.S. Army scientists and engineers to encourage their studies in STEM.[13] It serves students grades 6–10 in the Baltimore, Maryland, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, areas with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning programs.[14]

The 2017 movie Marshall is a Thurgood Marshall biopic about his early career, directed by Reginald Hudlin. It featured Keesha Sharp as Vivian Marshall.[4]


  1. ^ "The Marshall Movie vs. the True Story of Thurgood Marshall and the Joseph Spell Case". Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  2. ^ Gibson, Larry S. (2012). Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1616145729.
  3. ^ a b c "All About Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  4. ^ a b "Vivian "Buster" Burey, portrayed by Keesha Sharp - 'Marshall': 8 of the Film's Stars and Their Real-Life Inspirations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  5. ^ a b Horn, Geoffrey M. (2004). Thurgood Marshall. Gareth Stevens. ISBN 9780836850987.
  6. ^ a b Daniels, Patricia. "Biography of Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court's First African-American". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2019-06-29. In his junior year, Marshall met Vivian "Buster" Burey, a student at the University of Pennsylvania. They fell in love and, despite Marshall's mother's objections—she felt they were too young and too poor—married in 1929 at the beginning of Marshall's senior year.
  7. ^ a b Roberts, Sanford (May 7, 1993). "Thurgood Marshall in his own words" (PDF). Executive Intelligence Review (EIR). Executive Intelligence Review. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
  8. ^ a b c Starks, Glenn L.; Brooks, F. Erik (2012-04-06). Thurgood Marshall: A Biography: A Biography. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313349171.
  9. ^ Crawford, Malachi D. (2015). Black Muslims and the Law: Civil Liberties from Elijah Muhammad to Muhammad Ali. Lexington Books. p. 50. ISBN 978-0739184899 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ Kluger, Richard (2011). Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 73. ISBN 978-0307546081 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ Brock, Paul (1993-02-01). "The Birth of An Ugly Notion". The Crisis. The Crisis Publishing Company, Inc. and NAACP. 100 (2): 32. ISSN 0011-1422 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ Brown, DeNeen L. (2016-08-18). "Thurgood Marshall's interracial love: 'I don't care what people think. I'm marrying you.'". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  13. ^ "Vivian Burey Marshall Academy | Thurgood Marshall College Fund". Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  14. ^ "Vicksburg tapped for STEM project". The Vicksburg Post. 2016-01-08. Retrieved 2018-04-25.