Hymns for Martin Luther King Day (21 January)

This is a selection of hymns suitable for Martin Luther King Day (21 January), and other events that remember him.

The hymn suggestions below are either hymns which Dr King liked himself, hymns directly about him (possibly none of these found as yet) or based on the themes from his life and work.

The list is divided into two parts:   free-use items that can be used with no concerns about copyright (typically because they are in the public domain), and hymns that may still be copyright depending on whether this was renewed in particular time-frames.


About Dr Martin Luther King Jnr

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was an American Baptist minister and activist. He was the most visible leader and spokesperson in the American civil rights movement from 1954 until he was assassinated in 1968.

He advocated for advancing civil rights through nonviolent civil disobedience - inspired by his Christian beliefs and the approach of Indian leader Mahatma Gandi. His "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech is particularly well-known.

On April 3, 1968, King travelled to Memphis, Tennessee to support a strike black public works employees. The next day, April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m., he was shot in the head while standing on a second floor motel, balcony surrounded by friends and associates.

Although King was not Roman Catholic, Pope John Paul II declared him to to be a "Martyr for the Church" because his goals were so completely aligned with the themes of Catholic Social Teaching, viz the dignity of all people; the call to community participation and inclusion regardless of skin color, the obligation to advocate for people who are downtrodden with first preference for the needs of the poor and vulnerable people, and solidarity across the entire human family despite racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences.   From a religious perspective, his memorial is a day to remember fallen heroes and the promise of justice and peace lived by Jesus and shown through the Gospel,


Free-use hymns

Freedom Is Coming

Go Down Moses

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands


I want Jesus to Walk with Me


Lift Every Voice and Sing

O Holy City Seen of John - Bowie 

O Pure Reformers, Not in Vain - Whittier

Rock of Ages

Take My Hand, Precious Lord - Dorsey (requested by King as he was dying)

There Is a Balm in Gilead

The Old Rugged Cross

We Shall Overcome

We’ve Come a Long Way, Lord 


Hymns which may still be copyright

Bring Forth the Kingdom - Haugen


For the Healing of the Nations - Kaan

God of Day and God of Darkness - Haugen

How Long, O Lord - Schutte, Stuempfle

I Will Not Die - Conry

Justice Shall Flourish - Marchionda

Keep the Dream Alive - Manuel

Let Justice Roll Like a River - Haugen

Lord of All Nations, Grant Me Grace - Spannaus

Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service - Bayly

Make Us True Servants - Wente

On Holy Ground - Peña 

The Cry of the Poor - Foley

Send Down the Fire - Haugen

The Church of Christ in Every Age - Green

We Are Called - Haas

We Shall Not Be Silent - Conry

What Does the Lord Require - Bayly/Routley


You Are the Light of the World - Tate




Resources for church-music selection



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