Born in 1919 in Washington, North Carolina, the heart of America's Dixieland with its bottomless cruelty, and yet Matthew Little and his generation continued to keep the faith and never lost hope. The challenge that he faced in the harsh realities is what shaped a sensitive, thoughtful personality towards a persistent committed life for social justice.
After a typical upbringing of Black southern children of that day, Matthew Little attended college and earned a degree in biological science from North Carolina A & T, a historically Black institution, known primarily for producing fine engineers.
After college, he followed the cast of what many young Black men of his generation did and that was to join the segregated U.S. Army. He did a tour of duty overseas where he was slightly wounded in attempt to make the world "safe for democracy". After serving his country, in a world in which he and his people at the time were largely invisible, Matthew Little was rejected for admission into medical school. So Matt Little looked for his place under the sun. He ended up in Milwaukee where he worked in the industry belt. His next move was when he flipped a coin to decide whether he would move to Denver or Minneapolis. Minneapolis won. How lucky are we! Very much so!
After moving to Minneapolis, he held a number of odd jobs before applying for work with the Minneapolis Fire Department, which was his first major encounter with the mad and ugly racism of the north. After scoring top grades on the written and physical exams, and failing the oral interview he was rejected. After confronting the man about what seemed an obvious act of racial discrimination, he was told by the official, "I don't think it was going to work." One of his daughters, Titilayo tells us that this discriminatory event was one of the experiences that spurred her dad's interest in civil rights.
From the time of his membership in the NAACP to the long time leadership in it, Matthew Little's career crisscrossed the map of civil rights. From his various positions, he talked and bargained with the power of the elite of politics from the Democratic Party and the likes of Humphrey, Mondale, Anderson, and Fraser. He intermingled with various heads of governmental agencies, he cooperated with a cross-section of local civil rights groups, from the State Capital and city hall, to organizations such as The Way Unlimited, a short lived, but radical organization on Plymouth Avenue in north Minneapolis. Matt was a friend and supporter of the American Indian Movement (AIM), the most radical Native American group in politics. He had the capacity to walk with kings and still maintain a common touch.
Matthew Little is at least partly responsible for many African Americans getting well-paid jobs throughout the state of Minnesota. As a man, Matt Little possessed more than his share of virtues: he was courageous and humble, an air of dignity and reason. But most of all, he had possessed a Nelson Mandela like quality of grace. He was a graceful man and easy to talk to.
He was one of our most honored citizens deserving every honor that he received. He was elected five times to the Minnesota State Executive Committee; four times he was elected to the Democratic National Convention, and another four times as an Elector, from Minnesota as part of the U.S. Electoral College, to cast his vote for the U.S. President. Matthew Little was overcome with joy in 2008, when he was able to cast a vote, as a member of Minnesota's Electoral College, for President Barack Obama. Among his long list of awards are the Human Rights Award from the Minnesota Human Rights Commission, the Democratic Party's Hubert Humphrey Award and the Urban Leagues Outstanding Civic Service Award.
He received an honorary Doctorate Degree of Law from the University of Minnesota.
Many will miss Matthew Little's "Little by Little" weekly column published in the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder with his commentary on political, social and educational issues. The man was a model for most of us who wish to move the world through a door rather than a keyhole.
Matthew Little has left us his wife, Lucille, five children who follow his spirit, four girls and a boy, fifteen grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Matthew Little's four daughters are all a wonder to behold. All are activists for the common good like their father.
Finally, Matthew Little, like Martin King, has left us the committed life. He understood that the chief aim of life is not simply to be happy. His life said to us all that...
The chief aim of life is to be useful
To be responsible
To be compassionate
To count for something
To make it matter that we lived at all