“Let Freedom Ring” – Meaning & Origin (Martin Luther King)

In his incredibly important “I have a dream” speech, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr talks about how we as a society should “let freedom ring”. But what did MLK Jr mean by this? And what does this expression refer to, metaphorically? This article will answer these questions.

What Does “Let Freedom Ring” Mean?

“Let freedom ring” is a metaphor, in which the abstract concept of “freedom” acts like a bell, and so we must “let freedom ring”, like a bell, so that its sound may echo throughout the land. The phrase is basically saying that more people must know the “sound” of freedom.

let freedom ring meaning

The idea, therefore, is that America is a land in which freedom “rings” throughout the country, and so the metaphor treats freedom like something that could make such a sound.

Therefore, the “ringing” isn’t literal and is more about the concept of people having freedom, specifically in the United States of America.

“Let freedom ring” can be thought of as a way to help people understand what the concept of freedom means, and so understand the basic foundational concept of the United States of America.

Where Does “Let Freedom Ring” Come From?

The origin of the phrase “let freedom ring” comes from the song “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)”, which is a patriotic song that talks about how incredible and amazing the United States of America is. In its first verse, the song says “let freedom ring”.

In the song, “let freedom ring” is used to establish the idea that freedom is the core founding value of America (after all, it’s a country based on its independence from the British empire).

When “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)” talks about freedom ringing, it’s saying that the echo of freedom rings throughout the United States, and throughout all of its people, too.

Is “Let Freedom Ring” a Metaphor?

Yes, “let freedom ring” is a metaphor. A metaphor is a type of analogy, meaning a type of comparison, but it’s a type of comparison in which you are not saying that thing A is like thing B, but literally stating that thing A is thing B.

In the “let freedom ring” metaphor, you’re not saying that freedom in the United States is like a bell that rings, but you’re literally stating that freedom is a bell that rings.

The type of comparison in which you do say that thing A is like thing B is called a simile, and it is not what “let freedom ring” is at all.

How Popular Is “Let Freedom Ring”?

According to information compiled by the Google Ngram Viewer, “let freedom ring” is quite the common expression. This is because of “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)”’s popularity, but also because of Martin Luther King Jr’s iconic 1963 “I have a dream” speech.

let freedom ring origin

The information displayed is really interesting. “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” was released in 1831, and the data compiled starts in the year 1900, and so we can see that the expression was already used.

However, in the 1930s, “let freedom ring” expressed a surge in popularity, most likely because the song experienced a surge in popularity as well. This wouldn’t be the last popularity boost for the expression.

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr gave his bold “I have a dream” speech, in which he specifically uses the phrase “let freedom ring” as a callback to the song.

In the speech, he argues that freedom did not ring in the United States, but that with enough work done by the regular man, then America could be a place where freedom actually rang.

This evidently caused a surge in popularity for “let freedom ring”, and the phrase experienced a boost that lasted until 2005.

The phrase’s modern popularity can probably be blamed on the speech itself, since it’s considered one of if not the definitive speech for the civil rights movement in the United States.

Let Freedom Ring or Let Freedom Reign?

Both are valid phrases, though you’re implying different things with each of them, so “let freedom ring” and “let freedom reign” are not interchangeable expressions. “Let freedom reign” talks about freedom ruling the nation, while “let freedom ring” is a metaphor for people knowing the principle of freedom.

Therefore, while these are certainly similar phrases, they express somewhat different sentiments related to the way that societies perceive the value of freedom and should be used differently.

Here are some example sentences that we’ve cooked up to help you understand the difference:

  1. Let freedom ring throughout the nation, because America is fundamentally a free country.
  2. Let freedom reign in this organization, because we are too oppressed in this present moment.
  3. Let freedom ring in this neighborhood, as our neighbors will understand that they are now free.
  4. Let freedom reign in the city, because our people have been oppressed for too long.
  5. Let freedom ring in this university, through the use of free speech in our university newspaper.
  6. Let freedom reign in their country, now that their terrible dictator has been exiled by the people.
  7. Let freedom ring in the streets, because you have to know that you and your people are now free.

“Let Freedom Ring” – Synonyms

Evidently, “let freedom ring” is a very specific metaphor used specifically to talk about the idea of people understanding the basic notions of freedom. There are synonyms we could use to convey this specific sentiment, and so here we’ve compiled a few of them:

  • Let them understand what freedom truly means.
  • Let the basic tenets of freedom be understood.
  • Let the idea of freedom spread through them.
  • Let freedom enter their hearts.
  • Let freedom guide us through the harsh times.

Final Thoughts

While “let freedom ring” started as a mere line in a patriotic song, now it has taken on an entirely added meaning because of Martin Luther King Jr’s most iconic speech. Now, “let freedom ring” is a phrase deeply associated with the civil rights movement.