Civil rights leader Matthew Little dies at 92 - KMSP-TV

Civil rights leader Matthew Little dies at 92

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Matthew Little was a well-known and respected civil rights leader whose words and actions helped heal decades-old divides, and many are remembering his legacy after he died of complications of pneumonia.

"I call Matthew sort of 'the quiet giant' who could communicate without anger and help people understand what they needed to do to get the rights that our ancestors intended us to have," Dr. Josie Johnson, of the University of Minnesota, said.

Yet, the Twin Cities pioneer may never have made such a big local impact if it hadn't been for a simple coin flip to decide whether he would move to Minneapolis or Denver after WWII. Little wanted to escape the discrimination he had faced in the south, but he found that even in the land of 10,000 lakes, he couldn't avoid it.

Whether he was meeting politicians, marching on Washington, or indulging in his beloved sport of tennis, family members tell Fox 9 News the fight for civil rights was never far from Little's mind.

"Daddy believed in service and believed in us helping one another," Little's daughter, Kenshasha Kambui said.

For Little, the struggle for equality was a personal one. He was denied a job as a Minneapolis firefighter because of his skin color. Later, he testified in a lawsuit that prompted the department to hire 20 minority firefighters.

As the president of the Minneapolis NAACP, he spent decades championing equal rights in housing, employment and education.

"He was acting out the tradition of African American people. That was a part of his DNA, we could say" Johnson said. "He worked hard for that."

Johnson helped Little organize a contingent of Minnesotans to travel to the nation's Capitol for the March on Washington in 1963 to hear Dr. Martin Luther King's most famous speech.

As a member of the Electoral College 40 years later, Little cast his vote for the man he believed fulfilled Dr. King's dream -- the country's first African American president, Barack Obama.

"You felt like you wanted to jump up and shout," Little told Fox 9 News after the election. "I never thought it would happen in my lifetime."

Even though he retired in the early 90s, Little stayed active by reminding the next generation to preserve the rights he and others worked so hard for while inspiring others to keep working toward equality in all things.

"I want them to remember a kind and humble man who loved humanity and especially loved black people," Kambui said. "He loved African Americans and he fought and worked for us to be our best."

Little is survived by his wife, Lucille, and 5 children. His funeral is scheduled for Saturday morning at the Shiloh Temple in Minneapolis.

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