Behind U2’s Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

One man come in the name of love /One man come and go / One man come he to justify / One man to overthrow, plays the opening lines of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love),” set against a battlefield of shuffling chords and explosive drum hits.

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One of the Irish rock band’s greatest successes and most enduring works was born from the life and legacy of one man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The bold statement-making rock ensemble originally wanted to pen a middle finger of a song condemning then-president Ronald Reagan for his arrogant leadership, but they found brighter, more powerful subject matter in the civil rights hero.

When it comes to the 1984 song, some sources say the band was initially struck by a civil rights exhibit they explored at the Chicago Peace Museum when visiting the city in 1983. Others explain that Bono found inspiration in Stephen B. Oates’ Let The Trumpet Sound: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as a biography of Malcolm X.

However the idea came about, the song pays tribute to the civil rights leader as lyrics explore great figures throughout history, those who, like King, led with love, fought without violence, and died in pursuit of equality.

In the name of love / What more in the name of love? Bono wails in the song’s defiant, roaring chorus. In the name of love / What more in the name of love?

The final verse of “Pride” says, Early morning, April 4 / Shot rings out in the Memphis sky / Free at last, they took your life / They could not take your pride. On April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot in Memphis, Tennessee on a motel balcony. In the song, Bono incorrectly sings early morning when the shooting actually took place at 6:01 p.m. Bono has since acknowledged this mistake, singing early evening, April 4 when the band performs the song live.

“Dr. King kept us tolerant in a time of terror,” Bono opened a 2022 tribute to King, in which he read some of the activist’s speeches. “Kept us faithful to peace and community. Made us believe in joy and justice. Showed us the way to a shared humanity. Dr. King’s voice is louder today than it has ever been. He is one of the true fathers of our American dream.”

The same year “Pride” was written, U2 also penned another tribute to the hero, “MLK.” The pair of songs appeared on the band’s fourth studio album, The Unforgettable Fire.

Photo by Peter Carrette Archive/Getty Images

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