“There is nothing in all the world greater than freedom. It is worth paying for; it is worth losing a job for; it is worth going to jail for. I would rather be a free pauper than a rich slave. I would rather die in abject poverty with my convictions than live in inordinate riches with the lack of self respect.” – Martin Luther King, Jr
I was originally going to blog about how money is only temporary, but then I looked at the calendar and realized it’s Martin Luther King day. So instead, like a true nerd, I decided to find out if the good doctor was as amazing with his finances as he was fighting for social equality ;)
And the short answer is, yes and no. Yes he could have kept all his earnings to himself and better secured his family’s finances, however his #1 mission in life as we all know was not to grow his personal wealth or retire early (was that even a “thing” back then?), but to advance our civil rights. Which of course he succeeded magnificently.
True to his words above, he left this world with much more conviction than money:
MLK Jr. died not only without financial assets, but without a will. Despite his widely known premonitions concerning his own early demise… King died intestate. Although his wife Coretta had admonished him for years to set some funds aside for the higher education of their four children, King left his family with no appreciable benefits from his five books, hundreds of speaking engagements, his ministry, and of most concern to his wife, the $54,600 he earned as recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. While Mrs. King thought some of the award money should be invested for the children’s sake, her husband donated the funds to the movement.
That $54,600 he was awarded in 1964, btw, is equal to about $416,000 in today’s dollars. Plenty enough to secure your kids’ future for a while. (Interesting side note, legendary singer Harry Belafonte ended up raising money to ensure that King’s children were supported through childhood and educated. This article over at Salon.com goes into a bunch of things most people don’t know about M.L.K. if you’re interested in reading more.)
So yes, he was good at prioritizing where his money went, it just didn’t go into his own pockets :) His daughter Bernice King, however, rings in at a fair $1.5 million according to CelebrityNetWorth.com (don’t click that unless you REALLY want to be sucked into famous peoples’ money – it’s addicting!)
What Dr. King was able to do really makes you wonder about your own legacy, doesn’t it? What we will all leave behind in terms of making a positive impact on society? Do we want to be known for being awesome at our money or being awesome at something much farther reaching?
I suspect days like today are set up to inspire and remind us of the power of dreaming big on top of giving thanks to a tireless leader. Did you now there’s actually only two other people in American history that have a national holiday in their honor? George Washington and Christopher Columbus.
And then there’s the “Freedom Budget!”
During my search for answers, I also came across another item you might find fascinating – something called The Freedom Budget that M.L.K approved of. It was put out in 1966 by the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and was a “practical, step-by-step plan for wiping out poverty in America during the next 10 years.” Dr. King believed it would get people closer to financial independence.
There were 7 areas outlined to achieve this “freedom from want”:
- To provide full employment for all who are willing and able to work, including those who need education or training to make them willing and able.
- To assure decent and adequate wages to all who work.
- To assure a decent living standard to those who cannot or should not work.
- To wipe out slum ghettos and provide decent homes for all Americans.
- To provide decent medical care and adequate educational opportunities to all Americans, at a cost they can afford.
- To purify our air and water and develop our transportation and natural resources on a scale suitable to our growing needs.
- To unite sustained full employment with sustained full production and high economic growth.
How would this be done? By “budget[ing] a fraction of the $200 increase [per person] in Federal tax revenues to provide jobs for all who can work and adequate income of other types for those who cannot.”
This was Dr. King’s financial dream for us, but 50 years later we’re still far from it…
[You can read the summary of it here (24 pages). I also happened across an interesting sermon King wrote on how people worship money as if it were a god. You can find that here if you’d like to see (3 pages): The False God of Money]
So, two things to consider as you go about your day today:
- Really think about the legacy you’re currently leaving behind (or not leaving behind?)
- Make sure you have a will ;) It wouldn’t be a bad idea to use this holiday as a reminder to check up on it every year going forward as well, fwiw.
And that’s Martin Luther King on money! I’ll leave you with one last passage spoken by him just two months before his assassination… It’s amazing how well he lived his mission.
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was first published on MLK Day in 2015. But I just stumbled across it and was blown away (by him, not my writing! Haha…) and thought it was worth re-publishing again. I hope you find it just as inspiring :)