NAM Blogwire contributor Laura Goode met Matthew Little of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder at the 2008 Twin Cities Ethnic & Community Media Awards, co-hosted by NAM and the Twin Cities Daily Planet.  Little, an 87-year-old columnist for MSR, Minnesota's oldest African-American newspaper, is a  World War II veteran and passionate civil rights activist who, notably, led the Minnesota delegation to the historic 1963 March on Washington.  At the NAM awards, Little won first place for best Editorial or Commentary coverage for his MSR column "Little By Little". LG: What publication do you work for now?

ML: I am kind of a stringer for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, which is a weekly newspaper.  I'm not a regular reporter, I'm kind of on-demand.  I do have a weekly column, but it's just my thoughts about different things, "Little By Little," in which I expound on my thoughts on the day.

LG: What was your first job in journalism?


ML: My first job in journalism--let me just say this.  I do not consider myself a journalist per se.  I'm more or less a civil rights activist who writes about civil-rights-related issues as I see them.  I am without journalistic training per se, just a liberal arts degree with a major in biological sciences.

LG: What was your call to action as a journalist?


ML: It is very helpful as far as my passion, which is civil rights--the advocacy for civil rights.  It's a means of reaching my community and attempting to reach out to the public at large to see the wisdom of civil rights protection and how it adds to the American dream.

There was a person who influenced me to write, and it was the founder and editor of this publication many years ago, at the time when the civil rights revolution, as we call it, was in its infancy.  I was working with the NAACP--he asked me if I would give him a regular column on the doings of the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP.  It turned out to be a lot about getting people to understand what the NAACP was about, and increasing membership in the NAACP.

LG: How did you meet Cecil Newman (who founded the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder in 1934)?

ML: I first met him when I came to his office and wanted to know if I could get some material--it was during the time when we were doing the Freedom Fund Banquet for the NAACP, our major fundraising event of the year, and I asked him if I could get some publicity in his paper, and he said okay, if I would write the column and it was satisfactory.

LG: What unique challenges have you faced in your career as a journalist and activist of color?

ML: I think that they're kind of different.  As a journalist--to be frank with you, I still don't consider myself a journalist--I think that sometimes my writings in the past were considered a little bit too radical, a little bit ahead of where my readers were at times, because sometimes I became a little bit impatient and intolerant of bigotry.  I became critical of some of the bigwigs--to be critical of their intolerance sometimes landed me out of line.  So I think that was the biggest thing as far as my writing was concerned.

LG: What unique challenges do you see the ethnic media facing today?

ML: I think that the ethnic, and certainly the African-America media, and to a lesser degree the entire ethnic community, faces a new and a very different challenge today.  I think that Obama has changed, completely, the African-American's place in this country.  I think it is a very prepared pinnacle--it's the kind of thing that could very well easily become the kind of landmark that Martin Luther King and his dream considered pivotal in changing the relationship, the whole status for that matter, of African-Americans' lives.  Obama, with his presidency, regardless of how successful or unsuccessful he may be, will have an impact--more so than any other, I think the African-American press will have the responsibility to interpret the new movement to its own people and to the world at large.  Specifically to its own people.  So I think they have a very definite role to play.

LG: Who are your role models, or who do you seek to emulate in your career and in your life?

ML: Well, there is no question about--and certainly I'm not alone in this, but in my time the greatest inspiration that I've had is Martin Luther King.  I think that he personifies, more so than anyone I can think of, having been a Southerner and raised and educated in what was then the apartheid South, when the mentality of the African-Americans over the years had been so indoctrinated that we accepted segregation as a way of life that was unchallengable, not to be challenged.  I think he and his movement fearlessly broke that mentality within the African-American community, that regardless of laws, that there was something beyond the laws of man, that there was something that this country was supposed to be.  And from the Christian religious community, recognizing that these were man-made laws, that there were other things we held sacrosanct.  He's always been an idol of mine, a man that I idolize.

LG: What are your memories of segregation?

I have all of the regular memories--they are emblazoned on my memory.  So many of the white, black signs, and other places where there weren't signs but traditions that we knew were void for us.  Having to go up to the balcony in my hometown movie theater--there weren't steps, we had to climb up.  The black schools, having to use the hand-me-downs from the white schools, and all the grades were in one building from kindergarten to senior high schools.  It was called Washington High School, in Washington, North Carolina.  The whites had an elementary school, middle school, high school.  As a youngster, I played basketball, and we had to name our team the Yellowjackets, which was the name of the white school's team, because that was the name that was imprinted on the hand-me-down uniforms from the white school.  We had to play in a section that they would rope off in one of the big tobacco warehouses.  There are so many things that I remember that burn me now, but at the time, it didn't bother me, you just took it for what it was, took it for granted.  Martin Luther King, his defiance of those traditions, changed that series of memories for me.  To think of another one, there was another town that was almost equally divided between blacks and whites--you could always tell where the black community lived because that was where they stopped paving the roads and sidewalks.  In our section of the city, there were only sandy roads and so forth.  There are any number of those kinds of things that I remember of my early childhood--they would be intolerable today, even in the South, for that matter.  All of that builds into my becoming involved as a civil rights advocate, and escaping the South of that time.

LG: To ask a lighter question, how do you self-medicate?  What are your vices?

ML: I got rid of one quite a while ago, and that was smoking--coming from a tobacco country, raised in eastern North Carolina, it was almost automatic that you grew up as a smoker.  So I was able to get rid of that one.  In college, and also in the service, I did some drinking, but I never considered myself a habitual drinker, I was more or less a recreational drinker.  Cigarettes were the one thing I was actually addicted to.  I can't think of any other actual addictions that I had.

LG: What was the moment at which you were happiest to be a journalist?

ML: Well, frankly I think that it is the one which you are familiar with [winning the first-place Editorial/Commentary award at the NAM/TCDP awards].  I never had any expectations, it certainly came as a surprise to come in first place in the editorial category.  It was the greatest award that I felt I'd ever received.  Every now and then, I'll get a letter from someone I don't know telling me that they have agreed with something I've written, and that makes me feel happy.  But that was my only time of being recognized as far as writing is concerned....

The most memorial award I received for my civil rights activism was being at the University of Minnesota and having its president award me an honorary doctorate of law degree.  I was very honored.  That was in 2003.

LG: What do you most wish someone had told you at the beginning of your career?

ML: Frankly, I kind of stumbled into writing.  I wish someone had told me earlier, during the time that I was in college or before, how liberating it is, that feeling of satisfaction one can get from writing.  I think I would have guided my career more in that direction earlier had I been exposed more to that.  At that time, I never thought in terms of the satisfaction I could get from that, or that I might have had some innate abilities to express myself in that matter.  If I have any misgivings, they are that I did not pursue earlier my vocation of journalism.