Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who led 2,000 people on a 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 in the fight for civil rights, Shelia Abdus-Salaam was a true trailblazer. Abdus-Salaam was the first African American woman to serve on New York State’s highest court and was revered in the legal community as a “humble pioneer.”
Sadly, however, personal tragedy followed her famous achievements throughout her career.
According to CNN, Abdus-Salaam’s death could potentially be ruled as a suicide, but law enforcement officials say they are treating her death as “suspicious” while they gather more information.
Abdus-Salaam’s brother committed suicide three years ago around the same time of year in 2012 at the age of 92, and her mother committed suicide on Easter. In addition, police sources told The New York Daily News that she struggled with depression.
“Obviously, we’re still waiting for the full investigation, but to the extent that the challenges and the stresses in her life contributed to this, it’s a reminder that even the most accomplished people still deal with extraordinary challenges inward, and we don’t get to see that,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “It is humbling. It’s a sad day. Someone who got so far and was lost so soon.”
Abdus-Salaam, who was 65 years old at the time of her death, was reportedly experiencing high levels of stress from her job as of late.
Despite her troubled past and the recent tragedy of her death, Abdus-Salaam will be remembered by many as a socially responsible and hard working judge.
“Sheila Abdus-Salaam set an example for generations to come, as much for her brilliance, moral conviction, and remarkable professional achievements as for her kindness, modesty, and understated yet unfailing generosity,” said Gillian Lester, dean of Columbia Law School, where Abdus-Salaam received her law degree.
The New York Police Department is continuing its investigation and is asking the public for information about the final days of Abdus-Salaam’s life. Anyone with information is asked to notify the authorities.