This Little Light of Mine

When Dr. Early requested we share the ultimate song that spoke to the time period of the New Negro, 1919 to 1941, I dreaded the task. What single song could cover the enormous changes and growth that were taking place for Black Americans and the rest of America during this time?

Well, I found it for me. The title is “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let it Shine.” Let me share with you its connections. First, the song was written in the early part of this period in 1920 by Harry Dixon Loes.  He attended the Moody Bible Institute and the American Conservatory. It was written as a gospel children’s song.

The words are:

This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine

 This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine

 This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine

 Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine

As a bible and music scholar Loes clearly has connected to his Christian heritage and beliefs in the creation of this composition. Several scriptures are mentioned in association with this piece:  Luke 11:33, Matthew 5:14 & 15, or the one that strikes me the most, Matthew 5:16, which says, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl; instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (NIV).

In this song I see, I hear the movement, and feel the “uplift” of the New Negro. Coming out of darkness, slavery, reconstruction and unveiling the “New Negro” into the light. All the aspects of Negro life, politics, writings, music, arts, institutions and the richness of Negro life are developing and coming into the light. No longer would Negroes hide, step off sidewalks or look downward when walking past Whites in America. They were gonna let their light shine.

It also has the improvisational qualities of Jazz at this time. Many have taken this basic children’s song, added words and changed it to reflect the themes they felt were important at the time. Later, it became an important song in the civil rights movement. It continues to endure.

Lastly, the New Negro Renaissance has had a worldwide impact; the song has also shared a place in the world of music. Not only is the song known all over the world but we also simply understand the concepts that light dispels darkness, misconceptions and reveals truth.

-- Alice Lee