This Little Light of Mine

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"This Little Light of Mine" is an African-American song from the 1920s. It was often reported to be written for children in the 1920s by Harry Dixon Loes, but he never claimed credit for the original version of the song, and researchers at the Moody Bible Institute, where Loes worked, said they have found no evidence that he wrote it.[1][2] It was later adapted by Zilphia Horton, amongst many other activists, in connection with the civil rights movement.[3]


The origin of the song is unclear, but the phrase "This little light of mine" appears published in poetry by 1925 by Edward G. Ivins, a writer in Montana.[4][5] In 1931, the song is mentioned in a Los Angeles newspaper as "Deaconess Anderson's song".[6][7] In 1932, the song was mentioned in a 1932 Missouri newspaper.[8] In 1933, the song was mentioned in newspapers as being sung by a chorus at an African Methodist Episcopal conference in Helena, Montana, and then various other churches around the United States later that year.[9][10][11] In June 1934 John Lomax and Alan Lomax recorded the earliest known recording of the song when they recorded Jim Boyd of Jacksonville, Texas, singing at the State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas.[12][13] In 1939 Lomax returned to Texas with Ruby Lomax during their Southern States Recording Trip and recorded the song again. This song and others were sung by a black woman, Doris McMurray[14] who was imprisoned at Thomas Goree Unit in Texas and said that she learned the song from her grandmother in Waco.[15] She sang the following lyrics, taught to her by her grandmother:

This little light o' mine, I'm goin' let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
Ev'rywhere I go, I'm goin' let it shine (repeat)
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
In my neighbor's home, I'm goin' let it shine (repeat)

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Many other verses have been added over the years, including impromptu lines appropriate to the occasion. The song is sung around the world, with the simple lyrics and tune resonating with all ages. Harry Dixon Loes, who studied at the Moody Bible Institute and the American Conservatory of Music, was a musical composer and teacher, who wrote or co-wrote several other gospel songs. He wrote a popular adaptation of the song "This Little Light of Mine" in the 1940s but never copyrighted or claimed credit for writing the original, which remains of unknown origin.[16]

Often thought of as an African-American spiritual, it can be found in modern hymnals such as The United Methodist Hymnal, #585,[17] adapted by William Farley Smith in 1987, and in the Unitarian Universalist Hymn Book, Singing the Living Tradition, #118, with harmonies by Horace Clarence Boyer.[18] The song does not appear in any of the major nineteenth-century collections of African American songs.

While the song is most widely recognized as an African American spiritual, over the years it has been transformed into a song of resistance adopted by Civil Rights Movements.[19] With such joyful and hopeful lyrics, "This Little Light of Mine" brought unification and strength to social movements, allowing oppressed groups to reinforce their shared identity and communicate their demands for equity.[20] Freedom Singing, a congressional style of singing that often uses church hymns as a form of resistance in social protests, was quite common especially during the Civil Right Movement in the 1960's. Rutha Mae Harris, one of the four original freedom singers from Georgia, said the song "helped steady protestors' nerves as abusive police officers threatened to beat them or worse." Singing this exuberant, spiritual song also helped to deescalate the tension and agitation during the protests.[19]


Some claim the song takes its theme from some of Jesus's remarks to his followers. Matthew 5:14-16 of the King James Version gives: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." The parallel passage in Luke 11:33 of the King James Version gives: "No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light."[21]


Bettie Mae Fikes singing "This Little Light of Mine" in Selma, Alabama, in 2019

The song was sung by Sister Rosetta Tharpe as early as 1960. The song has also been secularised into "This Little Girl of Mine" as recorded by Ray Charles[22] in 1956 and later The Everly Brothers. It has often been published with a set of hand movements to be used for the instruction of children.

Under the influence of Zilphia Horton, Fannie Lou Hamer, and others, it eventually became a Civil Rights anthem in the 1950s and 1960s, especially the version by Bettie Mae Fikes.[23] The Kingston Trio recorded it on College Concert in 1962, and The Seekers for their second UK album, Hide & Seekers (also known as The Four & Only Seekers) in 1964. Sam Cooke released his version on the 1964 live album Sam Cooke at the Copa. Over time it also became a very popular children's song, recorded and performed by the likes of Raffi in the 1980s from his album Rise and Shine. It is sometimes included in Christian children's song books.[24]

Odetta and the Boys Choir of Harlem performed the song on the Late Show with David Letterman on September 17, 2001, on the first show after Letterman resumed broadcasting, after having been off the air for several nights following the events of 9/11.[25] Reverend Osagyefo Sekou and other counter-protesters sang "This Little Light of Mine" defiantly before a crowd of white supremacists and alt-right supporters gathered for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA in 2018.[1]

The song featured on Hoyt Axton's 1963 album Thunder 'N Lightnin' named "This Little Light". LZ7 took their version of the song also named "This Little Light" to number 26 in the UK Singles Chart. The song is also sung in several scenes of the 1994 film Corrina, Corrina starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ray Liotta.

Sharon, Lois & Bram recorded & performed the song on their television series Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show in 1987. It was featured in Season 4, Episode "Blackout".

The song was mixed with You Can't Be A Beacon by The Masters V (Later: J.D. Sumner and the Stamps) in 1988.

The song was sampled throughout the titular song to the 2012 DCOM, Let it Shine.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry chose to end their wedding in May 2018 with a version of the iconic song.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "'This Little Light Of Mine' Shines On, A Timeless Tool Of Resistance". Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  2. ^ "Harry Dixon Loes – Yet Another Unitarian Universalist". Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  3. ^ "Did you know 'This Little Light of Mine' was birthed in the civil rights movement?". 2 July 2020. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  4. ^ "Former S.L. Man Writes Poem for 'Truth N.Y.", Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah) 28 March 1925, Sat. p. 30
  5. ^ E. G. Ivins, This Way Out (1927), p. 56
  6. ^ Prowd, H.D. "Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church". California Eagle. Los Angeles. p. 7.
  7. ^ Popov, Irina G."'This Little Light of Mine:' to the Headwaters of a Song," paper presented at 5th Annual History Symposium at Tuskegee University, February 12, 2021.
  8. ^ "St. Francisville Woman's 71st Birthday Party". Clark County Courier. Kohoka, Missouri. p. 10.
  9. ^ "Program is Planned at A.M.S. Church in Honor of Dignitary," The Independent-Record (Helena, Montana) 09 Apr 1933, Sun, p. 2 (accessible on
  10. ^ "Church Announcements: Second Baptist" The Richmond Item (Richmond, Indiana) 21 Oct 1933, Sat, p. 8 (accessible on
  11. ^ "Plea for Faith Voiced by Noted Negro Educator," The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama)08 Dec 1933, Fri, p. 14 (accessible on
  12. ^ "Kodály Center for Music Education - Song".
  13. ^ "This little light of mine". Library of Congress.
  14. ^ "This Little Light o' Mine". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  15. ^ "Southern Recording Trip 2- John & Ruby Lomax 1939- Sections 10-22, field notes". Bluegrass Messengers. 1939. Retrieved 2024-02-18.
  16. ^ Deggans, Eric (December 24, 2018). "How The Civil Rights Movement Transformed 'This Little Light Of Mine'". NPR: All Things Considered. Retrieved 2023-02-19.
  17. ^ United Methodist Hymnal, The (1989). This Little Light of Mine #585. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House. p. 585.
  18. ^ "Hymns in Singing the Living Tradition - Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Rock Tavern". Unitarian Universal Congregation. Archived from the original on 2023-02-28. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
  19. ^ a b Deggans, Eric (2018-08-06). "'This Little Light Of Mine' Shines On, A Timeless Tool Of Resistance". NPR. Retrieved 2023-02-28.
  20. ^ Sabatella, Matthew. "This Little Light of Mine: About the Song". Ballad of America. Retrieved 2023-02-28.
  21. ^ "The New Sounds for Christ in Zimbabwe – This Little Light Of Mine." The Daily Kos, October 6, 2008. Accessed June 7, 2009.
  22. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 3 - The Tribal Drum: The rise of rhythm and blues. [Part 1]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  23. ^ "Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom". Smithsonian Folkways. Retrieved 2015-06-11.
  24. ^ For example, it is in The Kids Hymnal: 80 Songs and Hymns, Hendrickson Publishers, 2007
  25. ^ "Boys Choir Of Harlem News". Archived from the original on April 11, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2013.
  26. ^ Matthews, Lyndsey (2018-05-19). "All the Ways Meghan Markle Americanized the Royal Wedding Ceremony". Harper's BAZAAR. Retrieved 2020-09-06.

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