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Sun, 08.21.1921

Matthew Little, activist and businessman

Matthew Little

Matthew Little was born on this date in 1921. He was an African American businessman and one of Minnesota's most prominent Civil Rights advocates for over 50 years.

William Matthew Little was born in Washington, N.C., the first city in America named after George Washington, and the son of Arthur and Bessie Little. His grandfather was a farmer, and his father was an engineer in a plant that made corn and wheat products.

As a youth, Matthew aspired to become a doctor. Shortly after graduating from North Carolina A&T State University in 1943 with Biological Science and Chemistry, Little was drafted into the military. After World War II, racism in the South stopped him from getting into medical school although he was academically qualified. Severely saddened and hurt, he moved to Minneapolis, leaving the formal version of segregation in the South behind him.

After arriving in Minneapolis, Little worked as a waiter in a hotel and for the post office. When he sought a position as a firefighter, racial discrimination again prevented his hiring and he learned more lessons about the North. He not only passed all three required tests--academic, physical, and oral interview--he still holds the Minneapolis Firefighter record for carrying a man on his back for 100 yards.

Eventually, he started and ran a successful landscaping business for over 30 years. For decades, Little has been active in civil right efforts. As president of the Minnesota chapter of the NAACP, he organized bus loads of Minnesota activist for the historic 1963 March On Washington. He has rallied for continued support of affirmative action and desegregation of the Minnesota Public Schools. In 2000, he supported the NAACP lawsuit against the government of Minnesota, which charged the public school system with failing to provide an equal education to all children. Little supports busing as the best solution to the problem of school inequality, which has placed him at odds with some local black politicians as well as white ones.

Little has cultivated a strong relationship and influence with the African-American community and the business community, and was instrumental in persuading the Minnesota Vikings management to hire Dennis Green as its first black head coach. He is still chairman of the Minnesota NAACP.

In recognition of his accomplishments and contributions to his community, Little has received numerous awards, including an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University Of Minnesota Law School in May 2002. The father of four children, Matthew Little died on January 26, 2014.

The African American Registry
Box 19441
Minneapolis, MN 55419

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