Obituary: Civil rights leader Matthew Little, a 'humble giant'

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 27, 2014 - 3:20 PM

Matthew Little, a state civil rights leader who led the Minnesota delegation in the historic March On Washington in 1963 and remained an advocate through the next 50 years, died Sunday, his wife said.

He was 92 and still an active member of the African-American Leadership Council in St. Paul, the group’s chairman, Tyrone Terrill, said Sunday.

“What a man, and a humble man,” Terrill said. “Whether he was in a boardroom or a barber shop, he had an ability to relate to anybody. You’d never know he was a giant.”

State DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said in a statement that Little, a DFLer, “worked alongside the greats in our party like Hubert Humphrey, Orville Freeman and Walter Mondale, among others, in the fight for equality, human rights and economic justice.”

Little, a president of the Minnesota chapter of the NAACP who eventually retired as president of the Minneapolis NAACP in 1993, grew up in Washington, N.C. He came to the Twin Cities in 1948 after an unsuccessful move to Milwaukee and a subsequent coin flip at a train station: heads Minneapolis, tails Denver.

In Minneapolis, he learned that blacks could not stay at major hotels. Unwritten rules kept them from landing many jobs. Hired as a post office clerk, he became active in the union. In the 1950s, he led a campaign that won the state’s first fair housing law.

He was an outspoken proponent of desegregating Minneapolis schools.

When he retired in 1993, a profile noted that whether acting as chairman of an activist Stop the Violence Committee, or a committee of the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, Little espoused a philosophy of conciliation.

Terrill said that Little had been in ill health off-and-on recently, but that he seemed to rally and had Terrill believing that he once again would be “back at the table” at the African-American Leadership Council.

 

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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