RIGHTS BLOG: Updates from the Department of Human Rights


Posted on 1/27/14

Minnesota lost a strong impassioned advocate for civil rights and social justice when Matthew Little passed away Sunday night at the age of 92.  Little’s legacy on civil rights in the State of Minnesota was, is and will be significant for decades into the future.

Little served as the President of both the Minneapolis and Minnesota chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  He felt just as comfortable working for human rights and economic justice alongside political leaders such as Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Vice President Walter Mondale, and Governor Orville Freeman.  He was a person who had friends in all segments of our society.

In the early 1950s, after being denied an opportunity to work on the Minneapolis Fire Department, Little was part of a federal lawsuit that led to changes in hiring practices within Minneapolis.  In 1995, the Minneapolis African American Professional Firefighters Association honored Little for his role in opening doors of opportunities for others to serve as firefighters.

“Once people begin to understand each other and live with each other, they realize that they have the same ambitions and same desires as you."

Little also played a large role in challenging the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and the City of Minneapolis on the premise that residents were being discriminated and forced to live in dilapidated housing.  His work led to the establishment of Minnesota’s first fair housing law and served as a catalyst to subsequent human rights legislation such as the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Little led the Minnesota delegation to Washington D.C. for the historic August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Economic Freedom.   More than 200,000 Americans from a number of civil rights and religious groups gathered for the political rally, which culminated in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Little believed strongly that integration was necessary to achieve a just society and sought to bring people together so that they could understand that there was more that united them than separated them.  “Once you understand a person, it’s very difficult to discriminate against them, because there is the realization that this person is a human being just like you,” Little said in a television program on employment discrimination produced by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in 2006.  “Once people begin to understand each other and live with each other, they realize that they have the same ambitions and same desires as you.”

Until just recently when his health began to fail, Little was still making a difference in shaping Minnesota culture and advocating for social justice with his weekly column Little by Little in the Minneapolis Spokesman-Recorder, the state’s oldest black-owned business, and serving on the African American Leadership Council in St. Paul.

The entire state of Minnesota, and in particular the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, is much a better place due to Little’s lifelong dedication to human rights and economic equality. 

I feel blessed to have known Matt, to have served on boards with Matt and most importantly to have had an opportunity to learn from him.  He was the quintessential humble wise elder.

He will be missed.

-Kevin Lindsey
Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Human Rights